I hardly take images at all. I read. At the moment I read Svetlana Alexievich’s latest book “Second Hand Life”, and while I had my doubts regarding her Nobel-worthyness after the Chernobyl book, this book is without a doubt a masterpiece. There seems to be no English translation yet, but I suppose one is already in the works. Do yourself a favor and buy it as soon as you can.
Again it is a collection of interviews, deeply interwoven, a choir of voices, but while the language is still plain (it is the language of the countless narrators after all), the composition of stories, the juxtaposition of voices and the caleidoscopic effect are deeply poetic.
The book is “about” Russian history from the Perestroika years up to Putin’s empire, as seen through the eyes of countless “normal” people. We hear the stories of people having believed in Soviet values and having lost their homeland, people having been in Soviet gulags, people having tortured in Soviet gulags and sometimes later having been tortured in the gulags themselves, young people enamored with capitalism, soldiers having returned from the wars on the empire’s fringes, stories of love and death.
It’s a grand book and it has filled my list of to-be-reads like hardly a book before: Platonov, Bulgakov, Shalamov, Zinoviev, Solshenyzin, Grossman, I fear the list can only grow longer.
Probably the most interesting aspect is, that much of what I read about now, happened during my adult years, but I swear I could not remember the three-days war about Moscow in 1993 and how Yeltsin’s victory created the constitution that later enabled Putin’s way to undisputed power. The Sumgait pogrom in 1988? I had never heard of it. And so it goes on. I read, let history detract me, dig deeper.
It is not an easy read. Not because of the language or any structural complications, no, it is because of the troubling insights into human nature. It is a book that hurts.