"Svetlana Alexievich : Fiction and the Nonfiction of Confessions"
Hniadzko, Iryna (creator)
Mihailovic, Alexandar (Advisor)
Golstein, Vladimir (Reader)
Levitsky, Alexander (Reader)
Brown University. Department of Slavic Studies (sponsor)
This dissertation examines literary style and problematics of genre in the writing of Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in 1948 in the Ukrainian SSR and having lived in the present-day Belarus since childhood, the Belarussian author writes in Russian, publishing six books to date. Five of these form the so-called “Red Man” cycle for which she was awarded the prize.
Alexievich describes her books as documentary novels or “novels of voices,” while the Nobel Prize Committee marked her style as a “literary non-fiction genre that is entirely her own.” Each of her texts consists of a collection of interviews with survivors and witnesses of various traumatic events of the last 70 years in the USSR, from World War II to the Soviet war in Afghanistan and Chernobyl.
In this dissertation, I compare Alexievich’s texts to several works she had access to which were written in similar genres. I focus primarily on her indebtedness to Ales Adamovich, an author who provided Alexievich with the idea for her first book, as well as outlined the main principles of his genre of ‘super-literature’ which Svetlana Alexievich adopted.
I take a close look at the five books of her “Red Man” cycle and identify the literary techniques that make her writing unique among similar works, as well as what methods she uses to affect her readers.
Lastly, I perform a close reading of four editions of Alexievich’s book The Last Witnesses. I argue that, due to the number of alterations between the editions, it seems plausible to say that she selects only the most dramatic segments of interviews, edits and alters them with her authorial vision, placing them in the final text as a collective testimony of a composite character, no longer as the interviewee.
Irrespective of the problems with identifying Alexievich’s literary genre, her work fills in a gap for historic meditation and successfully recreates the trauma of several generations of people.