In Search of a Form for Soviet Trauma: Svetlana Alexievich’s Prose between History and Literature


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Slavic Languages and Literatures


In 2015, a relatively unknown Belarusian writer, Svetlana Alexievich, received the Nobel Prize in Literature for her ironically titled book cycle, “Voices of Utopia.” The dissertation project explores Alexievich’s innovative use of oral history for literary purposes in the five narratives that comprise her remarkable cycle: “The Unwomanly Face of War” (1983), “Last Witnesses” (1985), “Boys in Zinc” (1991), “Voices from Chernobyl” (1997), and “Secondhand Time” (2013). Fusing oral history and fiction with performative genres such as requiem, death lament, and magic tale, Alexievich finds a new and powerful way to give voice to both individual and collective traumas of war and disaster that are described in the oral testimonies at the core of each volume. Her “Voices of Utopia” strips the Soviet past of its traditional mythologemes and engages the reader in the painful process of bearing witness to Soviet-era traumas, forcing a reassessment of their impact on post-Soviet societies.