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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 30 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 from 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."
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Sara on 02-22-17
The Heart, Soul & Iron Fist Of Russia
Prepare yourself. This is not an easy listening experience. Simply put a tour de force from Alexievich. Harrowing, horrifying and heartbreaking but at the same time offering an incredibly insightful and deeply encompassing exploration into Russia and her people.
This is a book that will knock you to your knees and have you repeatedly trying to catch your breath. Not for the faint of heart but worth every minute if you want to begin to understand what makes Russia Russia.
Read the other reviews--many have said it better. Just know there is a reason this book won the Nobel Prize for literature. A must listen for the history lover--but know that listener strength is required.
32 of 37 people found this review helpful
By Amazon Customer on 06-19-16
The mind cannot understand Russia
"Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone,
No ordinary yardstick can span her greatness:
She stands alone, unique –
In Russia, one can only believe." - Fyodor Tyutchev
Russia and the spirit and soul of the Russians are very complex at times to foreign minds. My fiance was Russian and left me with so many headaches often trying to understand why she would think a certain way, or always become pessimistic. With this in mind I looked at this book as a way to understand the great change that faced Russia most recently, the collapse of the USSR, the Rise of the Oligarchs, and the Chechen war.
Svetlana Alexievich does a great job of fairly capturing the tragic stories of people from the rural parts to the cities, the staunch communist and the budding democrat and the shock of losing all that they had believed in and worked for during the USSR. Combine this with a growing population ready for freedom but naive and uneducated in what to do in the wilderness of capitalism and tragedy and chaos ensues.
This book is dark and sad. At times, really dark and sad! You visualize the despair and disillusionment as you see another parent drink themselves to death, another wife/husband murdered, a mother telling that she will rejoin her child staying with her aunt hours before jumping in front of a train. You see the depths of depravity as a union of connected countries forced to be brothers are set free and true feelings explode. Through it all, through the carelessness, you see the strength of the Russian soul to persevere through any tragedy, to die before submitting, to dampen desires for love at times, and at times throw their entire family away for a new love. The Slavic soul and spirit is complex and bewildering at times, but this book does a wonderful job of providing context.
For anyone with any interest in Russian/USSR history, interest in learning about the people and culture, or just interest in understanding human psychology at the extremes of hardship, I cannot recommend this book enough!
13 of 16 people found this review helpful