November 20, 2015

Suggestion to foreign writers who want to be published in the US: Win the Nobel



Svetlana Alexeivich, Winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature

When Svetlana Alexeivich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this past October, American readers went in search of titles by the writer known for journalistic works described by the Swedish Academy as “a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” These are books that sound both good and important, especially given their perspective on historical and political subjects.

But, as has occurred in years past, American readers learned that they couldn’t read much of the author that the Swedish Academy praised and loved. Only two of Alexeivich’s many books are currently available in the States: the excellent and horrifying Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster first published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2005 and reprinted by Picador in 2006, and Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan Warpublished by W.W. Norton in 1992.

But after the Nobel announcement it was only a matter of time before American publishing caught up. Accordingly, earlier this week, Random House confirmed that more Alexeivich is coming to America. According to Publishers Weekly, in the summer of 2016 the big house will publish Alexeivich’s 2013 book, Second-hand Time, which editor Samuel Nicholson acquired from the UK’s Fitzcarraldo Editions. Fitzcarraldo‘s catalog from the Autumn of 2015 describes Second-hand Time:

‘Communism had an insane plan: to refashion the “old” breed of man, ancient Adam. And it accomplished this…’ writes Svetlana Alexievich. ‘This was perhaps communism’s only achievement. Seventy plus years in the Marxist-Leninist laboratory gave rise to a new kind of man, the Homo sovieticus.’ This ‘red man’: that’s whom Alexievich has been studying since her first book, published in 1985 – a people and a culture condemned to extinction by the implosion of the Soviet Union.

In 2017, Random House will follow the publication of Second-hand Time with Alexeivich’s first book, War’s Unwomanly Face—the journalist’s 1988 chronicle of the Russian women who participated in the Second World War as infantry, snipers, nurses, and doctors. Last Witnesses, also due in 2017, sees the war through the voices of its children.

In response to receiving the Nobel, Alexeivich said the following:

I’m searching life for observations, nuances, details. Because my interest in life is not the event as such, not war as such, not Chernobyl as such, not suicide as such. What I am interested in is what happens to the human being, what happens to it in of our time. How does man behave and react. How much of the biological man is in him, how much of the man of his time, how much man of the man.

It’s a worthy search, to say the least, and one that Alexeivich’s work undeniably advances.


Chad Felix is the Manager of Direct Sales and Library Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.