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Secondhand Time
Cover of Secondhand Time
Secondhand Time
The Last of the Soviets
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERThe magnum opus and latest work from Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature—a symphonic oral history about the disintegration of the Soviet...
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERThe magnum opus and latest work from Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature—a symphonic oral history about the disintegration of the Soviet...
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  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • The magnum opus and latest work from Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature—a symphonic oral history about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia

    NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND PUBLISHERS WEEKLY • LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FINALIST

    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
    The New York Times
  • The Washington Post
  • The Boston GlobeThe Wall Street Journal • NPR
  • Financial Times
  • Kirkus Reviews

    When the Swedish Academy awarded Svetlana Alexievich the Nobel Prize, it cited her for inventing "a new kind of literary genre," describing her work as "a history of emotions—a history of the soul." Alexievich's distinctive documentary style, combining extended individual monologues with a collage of voices, records the stories of ordinary women and men who are rarely given the opportunity to speak, whose experiences are often lost in the official histories of the nation.
    In Secondhand Time, Alexievich chronicles the demise of communism. Everyday Russian citizens recount the past thirty years, showing us what life was like during the fall of the Soviet Union and what it's like to live in the new Russia left in its wake. Through interviews spanning 1991 to 2012, Alexievich takes us behind the propaganda and contrived media accounts, giving us a panoramic portrait of contemporary Russia and Russians who still carry memories of oppression, terror, famine, massacres—but also of pride in their country, hope for the future, and a belief that everyone was working and fighting together to bring about a utopia. Here is an account of life in the aftermath of an idea so powerful it once dominated a third of the world.
    A magnificent tapestry of the sorrows and triumphs of the human spirit woven by a master, Secondhand Time tells the stories that together make up the true history of a nation. "Through the voices of those who confided in her," The Nation writes, "Alexievich tells us about human nature, about our dreams, our choices, about good and evil—in a word, about ourselves."
    Praise for Svetlana Alexievich and Secondhand Time
    "The nonfiction volume that has done the most to deepen the emotional understanding of Russia during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union of late is Svetlana Alexievich's oral history Secondhand Time."—David Remnick, The New Yorker
    "Like the greatest works of fiction, Secondhand Time is a comprehensive and unflinching exploration of the human condition. . . . In its scope and wisdom, Secondhand Time is comparable to War and Peace."The Wall Street Journal
    "Already hailed as a masterpiece across Europe, Secondhand Time is an intimate portrait of a country yearning for meaning after the sudden lurch from Communism to capitalism in the 1990s plunged it into existential crisis."The New York Times
    "This is the kind of history, otherwise almost unacknowledged by today's dictatorships, that matters."The Christian Science Monitor
    "In this spellbinding book, Svetlana Alexievich orchestrates a rich symphony of Russian voices telling their stories of love and death, joy and sorrow, as they try to make sense of the twentieth century."—J. M. Coetzee
 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • From the book SNATCHES OF STREET NOISE AND KITCHEN CONVERSATIONS

    (1991–2001)

    ON IVANUSHKA THE FOOL AND THE MAGIC GOLDFISH

    —What have I learned? I learned that the heroes of one era aren't likely to be the heroes of the next. Except Ivanushka the Fool. And Emelya. The beloved heroes of Russian folklore. Our stories are all about good fortune and strokes of luck; divine intervention that makes everything fall right into our laps. Having it all without having to get up from your bed on the stove.1 The stove will cook the bliny, the magic goldfish will grant your every wish. I want this and I want that . . . I want the fair Tsarevna! I want to live in a different kingdom, where the rivers run with milk and their banks are heaped with jam . . . We're dreamers, of course. Our souls strain and suffer, but not much gets done—there's no strength left over after all that ardor. Nothing ever gets done. The mysterious Russian soul . . . Everyone wants to understand it. They read Dostoevsky: What's behind that soul of theirs? Well, behind our soul there's just more soul. We like to have a chat in the kitchen, read a book. "Reader" is our primary occupation. "Viewer." All the while, we consider ourselves a special, exceptional people even though there are no grounds for this besides our oil and natural gas. On one hand, this is what stands in the way of progress; on the other hand, it provides something like meaning. Russia always seems to be on the verge of giving rise to something important, demonstrating something completely extraordinary to the world. The chosen people. The special Russian path. Our country is full of Oblomovs,2 lying around on their couches, awaiting miracles. There are no Stoltzes. The industrious, savvy Stoltzes are despised for chopping down the beloved birch grove, the cherry orchard. They build their factories, make money . . . They're foreign to us . . .

    —The Russian kitchen . . . The pitiful Khrushchyovka3 kitchenette, nine to twelve square meters (if you're lucky!), and on the other side of a flimsy wall, the toilet. Your typical Soviet floorplan. Onions sprouting in old mayonnaise jars on the windowsill and a potted aloe for fighting colds. For us, the kitchen is not just where we cook, it's a dining room, a guest room, an office, a soapbox. A space for group therapy sessions. In the nineteenth century, all of Russian culture was concentrated on aristocratic estates; in the twentieth century, it lived on in our kitchens. That's where perestroika really took place. 1960s dissident life is the kitchen life. Thanks, Khrushchev! He's the one who led us out of the communal apartments; under his rule, we got our own private kitchens where we could criticize the government and, most importantly, not be afraid, because in the kitchen you were always among friends. It's where ideas were whipped up from scratch, fantastical projects concocted. We made jokes—it was a golden age for jokes! "A communist is someone who's read Marx, an anticommunist is someone who's understood him." We grew up in kitchens, and our children did, too; they listened to Galich and Okudzhava along with us. We played Vysotsky,4 tuned in to illegal BBC broadcasts. We talked about everything: how shitty things were, the meaning of life, whether everyone could all be happy. I remember a funny story . . . We'd stayed up past midnight, and our daughter, she was twelve, had fallen asleep on the kitchen couch. We'd gotten into some heated argument, and suddenly she started yelling at us in her sleep: "Enough about politics! Again with your Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, and Stalin!"...

About the Author-

  • Svetlana Alexievich was born in Ivano-Frankovsk, Ukraine, in 1948 and has spent most of her life in the Soviet Union and present-day Belarus, with prolonged periods of exile in Western Europe. Starting out as a journalist, she developed her own nonfiction genre, which gathers a chorus of voices to describe a specific historical moment. Her works include War's Unwomanly Face (1985), Last Witnesses (1985), Zinky Boys (1990), Chernobyl Prayer (1997), and Secondhand Time (2013). She has won many international awards, including the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature for "her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time."

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 25, 2016
    Alexievich (Voices from Chernobyl), a Ukrainian-born Belarusian writer and winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, documents the last days of the Soviet Union and the transition to capitalism in a soul-wrenching “oral history” that reveals the very different sides of the Russian experience. Revealing the interior life of “Homo sovieticus” and giving horror-laden reports of life under capitalist oligarchy, Alexievich’s work turns Solzhenitsyn inside out and overpowers recent journalistic accounts of the era. Readers must possess steely nerves and a strong desire to get inside the Soviet psyche in order to handle the blood, gore, and raw emotion. For more than 30 years Alexievich has interviewed then-Soviets and ex-Soviets for this and previous books, encountering her subjects on public squares, in lines, on trains, and in their kitchens over tea. She spends hours recording conversations, sometimes returning years later, and always trying to go beyond the battered and distrusted communal pravda to seek the truths hidden within individuals. Her subjects argue with and lie to themselves; nearly everyone talks about love and loss in the context of war, hunger, betrayal, financial ruin, and emotional collapse. Yet with little intrusion from Alexievich and Shayevich’s heroic translation, each voice stands on its own, joining the tragic polyphony that unfolds chapter by chapter and gives expression to intense pain and inner chaos.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from April 15, 2016
    A lively, deeply moving cacophony of Russian voices for whom the Soviet era was as essential as their nature. Nobel Prize-winning (2015) Russian writer Alexievich (Voices from Chernobyl, 2005, etc.) presents a rich kaleidoscope of voices from all regions of the former Soviet Union who reveal through long tortuous monologues what living under communism really was like. For a new generation of Russians born after World War II, the era of Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika and glasnost, the attempted putsch of the government, collapse of the Soviet Union, and subsequent economic crises of the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin heralded a sense of freedom and new possibility, yet many Russians were left disillusioned and angry. What was socialism now supposed to mean for the former Homo sovieticus, now derogatively called a sovok ("dustbin")? Indeed, how to reconcile 70-plus years of official lies, murder, misery, and oppression? In segments she calls "Snatches of Street Noise and Kitchen Conversations," Alexievich transcribes these (apparently) recorded monologues and conversations in sinuous stream-of-consciousness prose. People of all ages delineate events with bewilderment and fury--e.g., those who had taken to the barricades during the putsch of 1991 hoping for another utopia ("They buried Sovietdom to the music of Tchaikovsky") and ending up with a scary new world where capitalism was suddenly good and "money became synonymous with freedom." The older generation had lived through the era of Stalin, the KGB and arbitrary arrests, betrayal by neighbors and friends, imprisonment, torture, and the gulag, and these remembrances are particularly haunting to read. One horrifying example is an older neighbor and friend of a man who burned himself alive in his vegetable patch because he had nothing left to live for. The suicides Alexievich emphasizes are heart-wrenching, as is the reiterated sense of the people's "naivete" in the face of ceaseless official deception, the endurance of anti-Semitism, war in the former Soviet republics, famine, and the most appalling living conditions. The author captures these voices in a priceless time capsule. Profoundly significant literature as history.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from May 15, 2016

    Journalist Alexievich (Voices from Chernobyl), who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, captures the heartache, excitement, and harsh realities of life at the end of the Soviet era and the birth of modern Russia. A collection of oral histories linked by topic, theme, and the author's own musings, this impassioned and critical study, originally published in Russian in 2013, documents the immense changes the Russian people underwent in the 1990s and 2000s. Alexievich poses clear, pointed questions and is faithful in her transcriptions of the conversations that span 1991 to 2012, creating a riveting look at everyday culture, even as people recount their experiences through difficult economic and political transitions. Other oral histories have relied on a blended structure whereby the individual stories form the supporting elements to the historians' larger narrative; the grace and power of Alexievich's work is the focus on intimate accounts, which set the stage for a more eloquent and nuanced investigation. VERDICT A must for historians, lay readers, and anyone who enjoys well-curated personal narratives. All readers will appreciate the revelations about Russia's turbulent transition and present cultural and political status. [See Prepub Alert, 2/21/16.]--Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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