Last Witnesses is a carefully woven tapestry of recollections of the outbreak of World War II in Minsk and the surrounding areas, from those who were children at the time. Collected decades later, the recollections are often both vivid and dreamlike. This book is beautiful, but the content made this one of the most difficult books I’ve ever finished. I’m glad I did. Recommended By Keith M., Powells.com
One of Alexievich’s great talents as an interviewer is the ability to let her subjects speak for themselves without editorializing their stories. In Last Witnesses, she collects the memories of people who were children during the German invasion and occupation of the USSR. The remembrances of horror and devastation, suffering and atrocity, loss of innocence and trauma she collected in the ’70s are still raw years after the end of the war. Published in English for the first time this year, Last Witnesses’ power to humanize the suffering of a generation is more proof that Alexievich’s Nobel Prize in Literature for her polyphonic writings was deeply deserved. Recommended By Emily B., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
"A masterpiece" (The Guardian) from the Nobel Prize-winning writer, an oral history of children's experiences in World War II across Russia
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST
For more than three decades, Svetlana Alexievich has been the memory and conscience of the twentieth century. When the Swedish Academy awarded her the Nobel Prize, it cited her for inventing "a new kind of literary genre," describing her work as "a history of emotions . . . a history of the soul."
Bringing together dozens of voices in her distinctive style, Last Witnesses is Alexievich's collection of the memories of those who were children during World War II. They had sometimes been soldiers as well as witnesses, and their generation grew up with the trauma of the war deeply embedded — a trauma that would change the course of the Russian nation.
Collectively, this symphony of children's stories, filled with the everyday details of life in combat, reveals an altogether unprecedented view of the war. Alexievich gives voice to those whose memories have been lost in the official narratives, uncovering a powerful, hidden history from the personal and private experiences of individuals.
Translated by the renowned Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, Last Witnesses is a powerful and poignant account of the central conflict of the twentieth century, a kaleidoscopic portrait of the human side of war.
"There is a special sort of clear-eyed humility to [Alexievich's] reporting." The Guardian
"A bracing reminder of the enduring power of the written word to testify to pain like no other medium. . . . Children survive, they grow up, and they do not forget. They are the first and last witnesses." The New Republic
"A profound triumph." The Big Issue
"[Alexievich] excavates and briefly gives prominence to demolished lives and eradicated communities. . . . It is impossible not to turn the page, impossible not to wonder whom we next might meet, impossible not to think differently about children caught in conflict." The Washington Post
About the Author
Svetlana Alexievich was born in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, in 1948 and has spent most of her life in the Soviet Union and present-day Belarus, with prolonged periods of exile in Western Europe. Starting out as a journalist, she developed her own nonfiction genre, which gathers a chorus of voices to describe a specific historical moment. Her works include The Unwomanly Face of War (1985), Last Witnesses (1985), Zinky Boys (1990), Voices from Chernobyl (1997), and Secondhand Time (2013). She has won many international awards, including the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time."