Nobel Prize in Literature won by Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich

Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature Thursday for works that the prize judges called "a monument to suffering and courage."

Winner's first novel, War's Unwomanly Face, has sold more than 2 million copies

Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich is seen during a book fair in Minsk, Belarus, in February 2014. Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, the award-giving body announced on Thursday. (Reuters)

Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature Thursday for works that the prize judges called "a monument to suffering and courage."

Alexievich, 67, used the skills of a journalist to create literature chronicling the great tragedies of the Soviet Union and its collapse: the Second World War, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Chornobyl nuclear disaster and the suicides that ensued from the death of Communism.

Her first novel, War's Unwomanly Face, published in 1985 and based on the previously untold stories of women who had fought against the Nazi Germans, sold more than 2 million copies.

Her books have been published in 19 countries. She also has written three plays and the screenplays for 21 documentary films. In its brief citation,the Swedish Academy, cited Alexievich "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time."

'A bit disturbing'

Speaking by phone to Swedish broadcaster SVT, Svetlana Alexievich said winning the prize left her with a "complicated" feeling.

"It immediately evokes such great names as (Ivan) Bunin, (Boris) Pasternak, she said, referring to Russian writers who have won the prize. "On the one hand, it's such a fantastic feeling, but it's also a bit disturbing."

She said she was at home "doing chores, I was doing the ironing," when the academy called her.

Asked what she was going to do with the 8 million Swedish kronor (about $1.3 million Cdn) prize money, she said: "I do only one thing: I buy freedom for myself. It takes me a long time to write my books, from five to 10 years.

"I have two ideas for new books so I'm pleased that I will now have the freedom to work on them."

'Mapped the soul' of the Soviet people

Sara Danius, the new permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said Alexievich "has mapped the soul" of the Soviet and post-Soviet people.

Danius said this year's winner has spent nearly 40 years studying the people of the former Soviet Union, but says her work isn't only about history, it is also about "something eternal, a glimpse of eternity."

She recommends readers unfamiliar with Alexievich to start with her book War's Unwomanly Face. She said the work  is a "a large, thick book that is based on hundreds of deep interviews with female participants in the Second World War, in the Red Army. She says it is an "absolutely brilliant book" that makes for a captivating, but sometimes also dark read.

She said "it is about women who voluntarily headed to the front line, pretty much the same conditions as the men."

Government critic

Like many intellectuals in Belarus, Alexievich supports the political opponents of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is up for re-election on Sunday. Because of her criticism of the government she has periodically lived abroad in a number of European cities but now lives in Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

Alexievich told AP she has not yet received congratulations from the president, whom she has pithily criticized for years.

"It'd be interesting to see what he's going to do in the situation," she said, speaking on the landing outside her apartment in a Soviet-era apartment block.

On Thursday, writers' free-speech group English PEN praised the new Nobel laureate as "a tireless chronicler of voices which might not otherwise be heard," and said it hoped her victory would encourage the Belarus government to improve its human rights record.

The group's deputy director, Catherine Taylor, said she hoped the Nobel Prize "will further highlight the civil and political injustices in Belarus and go some way to bringing about the restitution of free speech and freedom of expression for all Belarusians."

Peace Prize awarded tomorrow

Last year's literature award went to French writer Patrick Modiano. The 2013 prize went to Canada's Alice Munro.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner be announced Friday. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel will be awarded on Oct. 12.

On Wednesday, Sweden's Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich of the United States and American-Turkish scientist Aziz Sancar won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their research on DNA repair.

A Canadian scientist, Arthur McDonald, shared Tuesday's Nobel Prize in Physics with Japan's Takaaki Kajita for their experiments demonstrating that subatomic particles called neutrinos change identities and have mass.

On Monday the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine went to scientists from Japan, the U.S. and China who discovered drugs that are now used to fight malaria and other tropical diseases.


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