an excerpt from Svetlana Alexievich’s ‘Second-Hand Time’

Image-20151009-9146-q1w8lcSvetlana Alexievich at the Times Literary Supplement:

Why does this book have so many stories of suicides instead of more typical Soviets with typically Soviet life stories? When it comes down to it, people end their lives for love, from fear of old age, or just out of curiosity, from a desire to come face to face with the mystery of death. I sought out people who had been permanently bound to the Soviet idea, letting it penetrate them so deeply, there was no separating them: the state had become their entire cosmos, blocking out everything else, even their own lives. They couldn’t just walk away from History, leaving it all behind and learning to live without it – diving head first into the new way of life and dissolving into private existence, like so many others who now allowed what used to be minor details to become their big picture. Today, people just want to live their lives, they don’t need some great idea. This is entirely new for Russia; it’s unprecedented in Russian literature. At heart, we’re built for war. We were always either fighting or preparing to fight. We’ve never known anything else – hence our wartime psychology. Even in civilian life, everything was always militarized. The drums were beating, the banners flying, our hearts leaping out of our chests. People didn’t recognize their own slavery – they even liked being slaves. I remember it well: after we finished school, we’d volunteer to go on class trips to the Virgin Lands4 and we’d look down on the students who didn’t want to come. We were bitterly disappointed that the Revolution and Civil War had all happened before our time. Now you wonder: was that really us? Was that me? I reminisced alongside my protagonists. One of them said, ‘Only a Soviet can understand another Soviet.’ We share a communist collective memory. We’re neighbours in memory. […]

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