The Unwomanly Face of War
Penguin Classics, $29.99 pb, 372 pp, 9780141983523
When Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in 2015, the response in the Anglophone world was general bewilderment. Who was she? The response in Russia was the opposite: intense, personal, targeted. Alexievich wasn’t a real writer, detractors said; she had only won the Nobel because the West loves critics of Putin.
Alexievich is kind of a journalist, kind of a social historian. What makes her work different, and important, is that she collects the voices of real people, collates them, and redistributes them, without imposing narrative or explanation. Even biographical information is scant. There is enough to give the speaker authority, but not enough to construe character or personality.