Discuss this week’s reading. You can start with the questions below, but don’t feel limited to these. Make an effort to answer a question nobody or few people have tackled yet.
1. In “The Memory Keeper, author Masha Gessen calls Voices from Chernobyl an “oral history stripped down to segments so raw that it can stretch both credulity and the reader’s tolerance for pain” (36). List some examples from part one of the book that illustrate Gessen’s point.
3. Are there voices that stood out to you? If yes, why?
4. Can you discern a relationship between the voices in part one? In other words, what is the structure of part one? Look closely at how this part of the book begins and how it ends. How does the “Soldiers’ Chorus” relate to the rest of part one?36 Literary Journalism Studies
Svetlana Alexievich, Oct. 14, 2013. Elke Wetzig/Wikipedia Creative Commons
Literary Journalism Studies
Vol. 7, No. 2, Fall 2015
The Literature in the Journalism of Nobel
Prize Winner Svetlana Alexievich
John C. Hartsock
State University of New York at Cortland, United States
Abstract: For the first time the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded
for literary journalism as revealed in the work of Belarusian author Svetlana
Alexievich. Fundamentally, her approach has been to juxtapose the every-
day details of life against the secular mythologies of the state. Moreover, she
makes it clear that the intention of her journalism is to be literary. As such,
she is part of a larger Russian tradition, as well as a tradition practiced in
the Soviet Union and other communist countries during the Cold War. The
following is excerpted and adapted from the author’s forthcoming book,
Literary Journalism and the Aesthetics of Experience, to be published by the
University of Massachusetts Press in 2016. Permission to reprint passages
from the volume is gratefully acknowledged.
There is a scene in Svetlana Alexievich’s account about the Soviet war in
Afghanistan in the 1980s when a wife recalls how she and her soldier-
husband got married. They go to the marriage registry office in their village:
They took one look at us in the Village Soviet and said, “Why wait two
months. Go and get the brandy. We’ll do the paperwork.” An hour later we
were husband and wife. There was a snowstorm raging outside.
“Where’s the taxi for your new wife, bridegroom?”
“Hang on!” He went out and stopped a Belarus tractor for me.1
Such is how one wife recalls the nature of their admittedly modest nuptials,
riding away with her husband not in a limousine (much less a taxi) as one might
today, but in a snowstorm on a farm tractor. But the scene takes on a powerful
poignancy, because we know that her husband has died in Afghanistan.
And such is the nature of Alexievich’s literary method, to explore how
38 Literary Journalism Studies
larger ambitions in the form of secular mythologies—in this case, the Soviet Af-
ghanistan venture—had, in the details, so devastatingly scarred people’s psyches.
The announcement in October that Alexievich had received the Nobel
Prize for Literature was, of course, a validation for scholars of a narrative
literary journalism. A review of past recipients since the award was established
in 1901 reveals that she is the first journalist, and indeed literary journalist, to
receive what is undoubtedly the most distinguished recognition in the world
for literary endeavor.2 This is not to suggest that earlier recipients did not
engage in journalism. But the award is given for an author’s collected works,
and what we can detect is that most recipients have been primarily authors
of fiction, drama, and poetry. Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel,
but despite his work as a journa
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