Miriam Cosic reviews 'The Unwomanly Face of War' by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Miriam Cosic reviews 'The Unwomanly Face of War' by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

The Unwomanly Face of War

by by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

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.

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Published in November 2017, no. 396
Miriam Cosic

Miriam Cosic

Miriam Cosic is a Sydney-based journalist and critic. She is the author of two books.