Dwight Garner at The New York Times:
In “Danko’s Burning Heart,” a short story by Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), a group of people are lost in a forest at night. Danko wants to lead them to safety. His heart burns with such desire that it catches fire. He rips it from his chest and uses it to light the way.
There’s a bit of Danko, an element of self-sacrifice, in the lives and work of Russia’s best journalists. I’m thinking of Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated on Vladimir V. Putin’s birthday in 2006. I’m thinking too of Svetlana Alexievich, born in Ukraine, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Ms. Alexievich is an investigative journalist who compiles, in Studs Terkel-like fashion, dense volumes of oral history about postwar Russia. Her books bring her trouble. “Zinky Boys” (1992), for example, about Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan, led her to be put on trial for defaming the Soviet Army. (She was acquitted.)
When she won the Nobel, Ms. Alexievich was little known in the West. Her major books are slowly making their way into English. Here now is her newest, “Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets,” a sprawling examination of life in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of a feral brand of capitalism.