Russian Language Blog

Reading Russian Press: Russians’ Fear of Uncomfortable Literature – Part II Posted by on Nov 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


We are continuing last week’s discussion of some Russians’ reaction to the Belorussian writer Svetlana Alexievich receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature. Critics have voiced their concern that the award is becoming more political and that non-fiction, documentary writing is less deserving of this award. Let us continue looking at quotes from the article we read last week, which refutes these claims.

The main question raised in the article is why Alexievich’s prose is celebrated worldwide but virtually unknown in Russia.

И все́-таки са́мый ва́жный для оте́чественного чита́теля вопро́с звучи́т так: почему́ для За́пада Алексие́вич ста́ла гла́вным совреме́нным русскоязы́чным писа́телем и перево́ды ее книг выхо́дят миллио́нными тиража́ми, а в Росси́и, несмотря́ на перестро́ечный успе́х ее пе́рвых те́кстов, она, по су́ти, оказа́лась на перифери́и литерату́рного проце́сса?

оте́чественный – domestic, as in Russian. Оте́чество comes from оте́ц (father) and means Fatherland/Motherland/Homeland — you know, that big word for your native country. Compare this with Вели́кая оте́чественная война́ – Great Patriotic War.
За́пад – the West. Only capitalized when referring to the Euro-heritage/industrialized/capitalist societies, depending on your definition.
тира́ж – circulation, number of copies of a book in print. Here, we are dealing with millions of copies (миллионный тираж).
перестро́ечный refers to перестро́йка (perestroyka), the political liberalization of the USSR in the late 80s.
по су́ти – in essence, basically

The article suggests that Alexievich does not enjoy the same popularity in Russia as she does abroad because she shows war and human tragedies in an inglorious light, in situations where people have no choice and lose their humanity.

Экзистенциали́зм говори́т о том, что челове́к создае́тся ситуа́цией вы́бора — Алексие́вич и ее предше́ственники рабо́тают с о́пытом расчелове́чивания, пока́зывая челове́ка, для кото́рого вы́бор отсу́тствует.

создава́ть – to create, создаваться – to be created by something
предше́ственник – predecessor
расчелове́чивание – dehumanization
вы́бор – choice

According to the author, Russian readers are not comfortable thinking about the traumatic experience of war unless it’s a familiar re-cap of the veterans’ bravery and a cause for celebration.

А для нас никако́го Осве́нцима не́ было, и Колымы́ не́ было, да и войны́ в о́бщем-то то́же, е́сли она не про пра́здничный салю́т и «спаси́бо де́ду за побе́ду».

Осве́нцим – Auschwitz, World War Two extermination camp
Колыма́ – a river in Northeastern Siberia, the site of Soviet prison camps
салю́т – fireworks
“спаси́бо де́ду за побе́ду” – “thank Grandpa for the victory,” a popular slogan encouraging people to thank WWII veterans.

The author says that Alexievich’s achievement is her vast research into the trauma in Russia’s recent history — one that Russians have yet to grapple with.

Но все же по тота́льному нежела́нию смотре́ть на свое про́шлое как на пробле́му мы лиди́руем с огро́мным отры́вом.

нежела́ние – unwillingness
про́шлое – past
отры́в – lead in the race, here — “we are the absolute first”

The article concludes by saying that this award is the call for humanism and compassion for each of the myriad little people who have suffered through traumatic historical events.

А еще пре́мия Алексие́вич — это призы́в к смягче́нию нра́вов и гото́вности услы́шать друго́го, призна́ние неотмени́мости гуманисти́ческих це́нностей.

призы́в – call, plea
нра́вы – mores, ways
гото́вность – readiness
призна́ние – recognition
це́нности – values

Do you think this argument makes sense? What was the reaction to Alexievich’s win in your country, if any? I find her perspective on war interesting and refreshing in light of Veterans’ Day/Armistice Day observance in different parts of the world.

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. Mark S:

    Спасибо, Мария; Вы освещаете сложные тексты.

    • Maria:

      @Mark S Спасибо, Марк.