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2015.10.13 斯维特拉娜-阿列克谢耶维奇的形象

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The images of Svetlana Alexievich
Natalia Kaliada reflects on the work of the Nobel Prize winner

Oct 13th 2015



By Natalia Kaliada

“We won the Nobel prize!” my husband shouted last Thursday afternoon. It could only mean one thing: a victory for Svetlana Alexievich (above), the new Nobel laureate in literature and the first Belarusian citizen to win. Throughout the day, as people around the world began to search for Belarus online, we watched as our country began to trend. Last Thursday, because of Svetlana, Belarus became well known.

I first met her 15 years ago in Minsk. I had already read her books “Zinky Boys”, about the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and “Voices from Chernobyl”, about the nuclear disaster. What struck me when I spoke to her was her loyalty to the people she had written about, of whom she talked all the time. Her books, which are so full of colour and conversation, are distillations of years of reporting and hundreds of interviews. In each one, she immerses herself in her subjects’ lives and memory.

“Voices from Chernobyl”, her most powerful book, is based on more than 500 interviews conducted over ten years. Among those she talked to were the firemen who went to fight the blaze at the reactor, many of whom were newly married and all of whom later died from radiation poisoning. She talked to their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters, as well as the doctors who tried to save them, and visited the contaminated villages which were being quickly deserted, recording the atmosphere of those empty places. She then compressed these conversations into a rich collage, and raised her journalism to the level of art. Together with my husband, I once wrote a play for the Belarus Free Theatre about kidnapping. We spent nine years interviewing our friends before beginning the painful process of refining that research into a 23-page drama. I can’t imagine how difficult that process is for Alexievich, because her books contain so many different characters and stories.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about “Voices from Chernobyl” is that, even though Alexievich is a writer and not a dramatist or film-maker, it leaves you with images rather than words. Three have stuck with me since I read the book nearly 20 years ago. I remember the plastic bags in which the firemen were buried, and how their bodies were so swollen that they wouldn’t fit into their coffins. I remember the wife of one fireman who would wrap her hand in bandages and remove the bits of lung and liver that he was coughing into his mouth as his body fell to pieces. And I remember the doctors sending the wives out to get milk for their husbands to drink, thinking that it would help them. But the milk was contaminated; all they were doing was poisoning their husbands. Alexievich began writing these stories at a time when talking about Chernobyl was entirely prohibited by the Soviet authorities—a silence that contributed to thousands of deaths.

Belarus today clings on to its Soviet past. If you wanted to write a menu of what it means to be an artist in Belarus under the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko, it would include everything from silent repression to violence. If you’re a student who goes to the theatre, the government might stop your education or threaten your parents. Artists are beaten up, their houses are raided, and they are sent to jail. Several journalists have been kidnapped and killed, and their bodies not found.

What’s more, from an official point of view artists like Alexievich simply don’t exist. In spite of this, she insists on living in Belarus so that she can listen to people in her own country. Her Nobel prize is a recognition that she and artists like her, and the individual voices her work records, do exist, whatever the regime says.

image: getty





我第一次见到她是15年前在明斯克。我已经读过她的书 "Zinky Boys"(关于苏联在阿富汗的战争)和 "Voices from Chernobyl"(关于核灾难)。当我与她交谈时,令我印象深刻的是她对她所写的人的忠诚,她一直在谈论这些人。她的书充满了色彩和对话,是多年的报道和数百次采访的提炼。在每本书中,她都将自己沉浸在她的对象的生活和记忆中。

"来自切尔诺贝利的声音 "是她最有力的一本书,它是基于10年来的500多次采访。在她采访的人中,有去扑灭反应堆大火的消防员,其中许多人是新婚,后来都死于辐射中毒。她与他们的妻子、姐妹、母亲和女儿,以及试图拯救他们的医生交谈,并访问了被污染的村庄,这些村庄正在迅速被遗弃,记录下这些空旷地方的气氛。然后,她将这些对话压缩成丰富的拼贴画,并将她的新闻报道提升到艺术的高度。我曾经和我丈夫一起为白俄罗斯自由剧院写了一部关于绑架的戏剧。我们花了九年时间采访我们的朋友,然后开始痛苦的过程,将这些研究提炼成23页的戏剧。我无法想象这个过程对阿列克谢耶维奇来说有多困难,因为她的书中包含如此多不同的人物和故事。




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