Friday, October 09, 2015

Fiction Bigotry takes a hit: historian wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

Okay, Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel laureate in literature, is not a tenured prof somewhere, and the journalists say she is a journalist because she interviews people.  But a historian has just won the Nobel for Literature.

Titles like Zinc Boys: Soviet Voices from a Forgotten War, Voices from Chernobyl, and Enchanted with Death (a history of suicide) make clear she has been documenting history all along.  Indeed she has been practising oral history. She's an active historian, even, particularly since the government of  her homeland Belarus (she writes in Russian) has censored and persecuted her for not hewing to the approved versions of history.

Alexievich has said of her work that when man and the world have become "so multifaceted and diversified,” reportorial documentation is the best means of representing reality, while “art as such often proves impotent.”  

But the idea that good writing is fiction dies hard. Now that she has won the Nobel, Wikipedia declares her books are "novels."  Of War's Unwomenly Face, an oral history of Soviet women's war experience, it writes, "This novel is made up of monologues of women in the war speaking about the aspects of World War II that had never been related before." Can CBC Books be far behind?

Here's a little appreciation from (journalist) Philip Gourevitch, who is also the source of the quotation/paraphrase above.
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