Monday, July 10, 2006

Our July Author: Svetlana Alexievich

Let's start off our supplemental reading for Voices from Chernobyl with a couple of excellent interviews with author Svetlana Alexievich. Sign and Sight, reprints a Suddeutsche Zeitung interview. On the political fallout,
Two catastrophes have taken place in Belarus: the catastrophe of capitalism and the cosmic catastrophe. People can understand the former - poverty, misery, the new way of life - but they cannot grasp the cosmic catastrophe. Ukraine and Belarus are a sort of laboratory, you could collect the evidence, evaluate it and share it with humanity. But the Belarussian government is committing an assault on its own people and on humanity at large. One scientist who proved that even low doses of radiation can lead to illness was thrown into prison and only released after international protests. Instead there is much talk of optimism. Belarus is a closed-off, abject country. My book has appeared in 21 states but is banned in Belarussian. Otherwise people would ask: Where is the medicine? Where are the church masses? Where are the uncontaminated provisions? A totalitarian regime saves itself first.
Center for Book Culture offers another interview. Here's a bit about the oral history form and the writing process,
It occurred to me that life offers so many versions and interpretations of the same events that neither fiction nor document alone can keep up with its variety; I felt compelled to find a different narrative strategy. I decided to collect the voices from the street, the material lying about around me. Each person offers a text of his or her own. And realized I could make a book out of them. Life moves on much too fast—only collectively can we create a single, many-sided picture...From each person’s 100-page story, not more than five pages are left and sometimes maybe just half a page. I ask many questions, I select episodes, and, thus, I participate in the creation of each book. My role is not just that of an ear eavesdropping in the street, but also that of an observer and thinker. To an outsider it may seem a simple process: people just told me their stories. But it’s not really so simple. It’s important what you ask and how you ask it and what you hear and what you select from the interview. I think you can’t really reflect life’s broad scope without the documentation, without the human evidence. The picture will not be complete.
And because translators never get their due, how about an interview (from Maud Newton) with translator Keith Gessen,
...what I think the book does cumulatively with this randomness is suggest that, well, splitting up with your wife is more important than Chernobyl. These major events organize experience, they form a backdrop to experience, but they do not constitute experience as such. I’m not sure how much leeway I had as the translator, in this regard, but, functionally, the book is framed by these two devastating monologues by women whose husbands received very heavy doses of radiation and then just literally fell apart in front of their eyes, and these are just horrible — but in between there’s a lot of funny stuff, or random stuff is more like it, that fills in the background to those stories.
All three interviews have great insights, check them out!

Technorati Tags: , , ,
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...