In the Western consciousness, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was defined by one moment, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 — the Cold War, and freedom, were won, roll credits — but the reality was far more complex. To the Soviet people, what the Western powers epitomized as the final triumph of liberal democracy was, for better or worse, a massive and ongoing rupture, a complete disintegration and reformation of their beliefs, values, and lives. Secondhand Time gives voice to those who lived through that rupture. Alexievich's genius is in her ability to get out of the way, to let her interviewees tell their stories in their own words. Her focus is not on creating a single narrative; rather, she plumbs the depths of her subjects' hearts and minds to create an oral history of a people living through the death of one way of life and the birth of a new one. Recommended By Emily B., Powells.com
Alexievich's journalism is unlike anything I've read before. This cross-generational account of the end of the Soviet Union is wide in scope, but there are familiar, human stories at its heart. Extensive knowledge of the USSR isn't required, but anyone who finishes this book will find renewed interest in the Soviets. Recommended By Ashleigh B., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The magnum opus and latest work from Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature — a symphonic oral history about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES • THE WASHINGTON POST • THE BOSTON GLOBE • THE WALL STREET JOURNAL • NPR • FINANCIAL TIMES • KIRKUS REVIEWS
When the Swedish Academy awarded Svetlana Alexievich 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." Alexievich’s distinctive documentary style, combining extended individual monologues with a collage of voices, records the stories of ordinary women and men who are rarely given the opportunity to speak, whose experiences are often lost in the official histories of the nation.
In Secondhand Time, Alexievich chronicles the demise of communism. Everyday Russian citizens recount the past thirty years, showing us what life was like during the fall of the Soviet Union and what it’s like to live in the new Russia left in its wake. Through interviews spanning 1991 to 2012, Alexievich takes us behind the propaganda and contrived media accounts, giving us a panoramic portrait of contemporary Russia and Russians who still carry memories of oppression, terror, famine, massacres — but also of pride in their country, hope for the future, and a belief that everyone was working and fighting together to bring about a utopia. Here is an account of life in the aftermath of an idea so powerful it once dominated a third of the world.
A magnificent tapestry of the sorrows and triumphs of the human spirit woven by a master, Secondhand Time tells the stories that together make up the true history of a nation. "Through the voices of those who confided in her," The Nation writes, "Alexievich tells us about human nature, about our dreams, our choices, about good and evil — in a word, about ourselves."
"In this spellbinding book, Svetlana Alexievich orchestrates a rich symphony of Russian voices telling their stories of love and death, joy and sorrow, as they try to make sense of the twentieth century." J. M. Coetzee
"This is the kind of history, otherwise almost unacknowledged by today’s dictatorships, that matters." The Christian Science Monitor
"Already hailed as a masterpiece across Europe, Secondhand Time is an intimate portrait of a country yearning for meaning after the sudden lurch from Communism to capitalism in the 1990s plunged it into existential crisis." The New York Times
"Like the greatest works of fiction, Secondhand Time is a comprehensive and unflinching exploration of the human condition.... In its scope and wisdom, Secondhand Time is comparable to War and Peace." The Wall Street Journal
"The nonfiction volume that has done the most to deepen the emotional understanding of Russia during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union of late is Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history Secondhand Time." David Remnick, The New Yorker
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 War’s Unwomanly Face (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."