Novels in voices

Victor Martinovic comments on Svetlana Alexievich Nobel Prize

Victor Martinovich
8 October 2015

Wojciech Przybylski: How much expected was in Belarus that Svetlana Alexievich receives the Nobel Prize?

Victor Martinovich: It was totally unexpected. As far as I know It is the first time for an author from a post-soviet country to receive a Nobel Prize in literature. Given the international weight of our country everyone expected a Russian author to be the first. It is an honour for us, Belarusians.

Alexievich is a Belarusian writer with Ukrainian origins and writing in Russian. Does it matter for Belarusians? How is her national affiliation perceived in the country?

In a postmodern world it is quite hard to say define who is Belarusian, who is Ukrainian and who is Russian. For the past few years, she lived in Minsk but was acting in the Russian public sphere. In many interviews she described herself as a Belarusian writer and I think this is the most definite proof. Of course she once said that she belongs to a Russian world, but in a way all of us, Belarusians belong to it. I have heard a lot of doubting voices questioning her national belonging. In my opinion nowadays being Belarussian and knowing the Belarusian language do not always come together. Not many of our nationals can read in this language, so using Russian is forgivable in Alexievich’s case.

You were publishing in Russian too.

Half of my novels are written in this language. Some of my books were even simultaneously published in both tongues, exactly because I understand the situation in our country. Without Russian translations it is hard to reach an audience, it is difficult to break through to them.

What is the specificity of Alexievich’s books? What is so remarkable about her prose in your eyes?

She is famous for her verbatim novels: finding real people with real stories and composing tales out of their testimonies. They are never purely fictional. The decision of the Nobel Prize committee is especially interesting. I think this is the first time an author writing verbatims is awarded with this prize.

Alexievich used to be a very popular and scandalous author in late 80s and early 90s. Her books always attracted a lot and often caused heated reactions. Eventually her publications were banned. What happened now is, in a way a logical, outcome of the path she travelled.

Victor Martinovich is an acclaimed Belarusian novelist, writing in Belarusian and Russian. He is a lecturer in history and political sciences at the European Humanities University in Vilnus.

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