Why Svetlana Alexievich Won the Nobel Prize in Literature

aleksievich-nobelI don’t make any claims to being some kind of hifalutin literatus. To the extent I read any fiction at all it is almost inevitably either sci-fi or fantasy. I am woefully uncultured when it comes to “Big L” Literature, and looking at the postmodernist dreck that seems to dominate the modern scene, I am frankly content to continue wallowing in my ignorance.

So I was not very surprised to find myself completely ignorant of Svetlana Alexievich when she was announced the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. What was more surprising is that this ignorance was widely shared amongst my Russian acquaintances. It is not particularly the case that my acquaintances are cultural troglodytes. As Western journalists have recently confirmed, she really is pretty unknown in the Russosphere.

The pathos of Alexievich’s situation is that, while some of her books have been successful—War’s Unwomanly Face reportedly sold two million copies—today, the humanist writer is nearly unknown in her dehumanizing homeland, and is of little interest to its people. Her print runs are modest. There are virtually no comments or votes on her books on Ozon.ru (link in Russian), Russia’s answer to Amazon.com, and most of the books are not even in stock. By contrast, the previous five Russian-language winners of the literature Nobel—Ivan Bunin, Boris Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, Mikhail Sholokhov, and Joseph Brodsky—are all still household names.

Below is a graph I compiled using Google Trends comparing online chatter about her compared to some other prominent Russian language writers from multiple genres and sides of the political spectrum. The graph runs from 2004 to September 2015, to avoid the artificial spike coinciding with the announcement of Alexievich’s Nobel Prize this October.

Dmitry Bykov is a poet and essayist, Viktor Pelevin is a postmodernist but does some truly original and profound things with it, and Boris Akunin is a bestselling historical detective fiction writer. Perhaps more importantly to the sorts of people who decide on whom to give awards to, all three are strongly anti-Putin and pro-Maidan. The exception here is Sergey Lukyanenko, whose urban fantasies have probably made him into modern Russia’s internationally best known writer.


What all four of them have in common though is that not in a single month have they had their names mentioned online less often Svetlana Alexievich. As one can see from the bar graph, any one of them is an order of magnitude more popular. None of them would have been an unworthy Nobel Prize winner. There are dozens of other Russian language writers well ahead of her, to say nothing of the rest of the world. So her Nobel Prize certainly couldn’t have been the result of prominence and popular acclaim.

Was she then selected on the basis of the Swedish Nobel committee’s deep level of understanding and appreciation of Russian literature? Was she the diamond in the dirt that ain’t been found, the underground queen that ain’t been crowned?

Fortunately, blogger (and one of my regular commentators) Lazy Glossophiliac looked into this question in some detail, doing the work that lazier journalists wouldn’t. The book he looked at was The Chernobyl Prayer: Chronicles of the Future (published in 2006), which is available online in Russian here: http://www.lib.ru/NEWPROZA/ALEKSIEWICH/chernobyl.txt

Even for a non-literary kind of person – Lazy Glossophiliac is a technical person – it quickly becomes obvious her work is second rate.

She has a blithe indifference to facts. Numerous bold claims are made that are either unsubstantiated or flat out statistically false. Some are pretty minor (she says Belarus is a majority rural county; in reality, it stopped being so in the mid-1970s). Others are cardinal, such as her remarkable claim that radiation from Chernobyl was the most important reason for Belarus’ demographic decline. In reality, it was not the first or even tenth most important reason. In Belarus as in Russia and the wider USSR, mortality remained relatively low thoughout the late 1980s – recall that Chernobyl blew up in 1986 – due to Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign. In Belarus as in Russia and the wider USSR, it soared after 1991 – that is, 1991 – 1986 = 5 years after Chernobyl – as the economy collapsed and the state lost its former monopoly over vodka production.

Such sins might be forgiven for a truly “literary” writer, but she was an expressly nonfiction writer. The first such, for that matter, to be awarded a Nobel Prize since Winston Churchill in 1953, who got his Nobel Prize in Literature for, amongst other things, his “mastery of historical and biographical description.” I haven’t read Churchill but I would imagine he got his basic historical facts right.

Perhaps she made up for it with beautiful, sublime prose?

Here is Lazy Glossophiliac on that.

At the start of the next section Alexievich tells us that the Chernobyl accident was “the main event of the 20th century, in spite of all the terrible wars and revolutions for which that century will be remembered”. I’m chalking that up to chick logic. A certain quantity of pseudo-profound nonsense follows. I’m finally up against this year’s Nobel prize winner’s own voice. It’s boring and pompous: “Chernobyl is a secret which we will still have to uncover. An unread sign. Perhaps a mystery for the twenty-first century. A challenge to it.” Of course she’s not talking about anything technical here – it’s all hot air.

“The facts were simply not enough anymore, one was drawn to look beyond the facts, to get into the meaning of what was happening.” Oh really? The carelessness she showed with the “facts” which she quoted at the start of this book suggests that she’s simply bored by them instead.

She says that Chernobyl left everyone confused because throughout the ages the measure of horror was war. “We are in a new history, a history of catastrophes has begun.” She is utterly devoid of any sense of historical perspective. Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, epidemics – never happened. She goes on and on about the revolutionary newness of radiation’s invisibility, but viruses have always been invisible too, and much more deadly.


No Brodsky, Pasternak, or Solzhenitsyn is she. They might have been anti-Soviet, and justifiably so, but all of them produced real literary masterpieces (well, just One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, in Solzhenitsyn’s case, but even that is still one more than I am aware of Alexievich ever writing).

Also… HOW MANY ELLIPSES DOES SHE USE?… a Ctrl-F reveals 4,196 of them… out of 78,000 words… I can’t even!… that is like… MORE THAN ONCE EVERY TWENTY WORDS!

As I said, I do not pretend to be any sort of expert on the sense of style. In fact, I am downright awful at it. (Just look at that weasel phrase at the beginning of the last sentence. And putting this in brackets. And starting sentences with  “and”).

Even so, should I ever find myself peppering my texts with an ellipse or two every other sentence, I will take it as a cue to wrap up my writing forays and spare the world any more of my inchoate ramblings.

But perhaps she got her Nobel Prize not on the basis of popularity or even style but on account of the, erm, human truths – telling truth to power – living not by lies – insert Soviet dissident slogan of your choice – that she revealed in her writing.

That is what Philip Gourevitch* ventures in his panegyric of her for Human Rights Watch:

But although her work is often hot with the passion and outrage of independent witness, it is wonderfully free of any polemical or activist agenda. She serves no ideology, only an ideal: to listen closely enough to the ordinary voices of her time to orchestrate them into extraordinary books.

This is a message that was echoed by the Nobel committee itself. Ostensibly, she was rewarded for “her polyphonic writing, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”

In literature, polyphony as defined by Mikhail Bakhtin refers to a style of prose in which the author refrains from making his characters sockpuppets for some idea or ideology. Instead, he makes them vie for power and influence in a world where the only truth is that there is no truth. Dostoevsky was the primary example for Bakhtin’s definition of polyphony. Who can say which Karamazov brother was right: Ivan or Alyosha? George R. R. Martin would be a good modern popular example, in which the principle heroes and heroines tend to represent distinct moral codes and values, none of which are obviously superior to that of any other except to the extent that they are blessed with varying amounts of luck, dragons, and shadowbabies.

You have to have very high social intelligence and psychological astuteness to be able to convincingly write this kind of prose.

But there is no indication whatsoever that this describes Alexievich.

To the contrary, there is a clear polemical agenda at the very start of the book that we decided to analyze. My translation of its second opening paragraph:

For little Belarus (population: 10 million), Chernobyl was a national catastrophe, even though the Belorussians themselves don’t have a single nuclear power station. This is still an agrarian country, with a mostly rural population. During the years of the Great Patriotic War,the German fascists destroyed 619 Belorussian villages together with their inhabitants. After Chernobyl, the country lost 485 villages and settlements… In the war, every fourth Belorussian died; today, every fifth Belorussian lives on contaminated land.

Relativizing the unique horrors of the Nazi occupation bymaking flimsy and hyperbolic comparisons to the Soviet record is a favored approach of the post-Soviet intelligentsia, but very few Russians (and Belorussians) buy into it because of its inherent selectiveness and dishonesty. And probably not so much because:

The powers that be behave themselves as if I don’t exist. I don’t get printed in the state publications, I am not allowed on the radio or TV, I am only published in the opposition media.

Published in the opposition media? No wonder she came back to live in Belarus in 2013, after a decade of sojourning about Europe where no media – that is, neither state nor opposition – seem to have cared about her writings.

Indeed, a perusal of her interviews and speeches (aggregated here and here), in particular their polemical and activist agenda, is actually the single biggest clue as to why she got her Nobel Prize. Far from creating any sort of literary polyphony, she comes off as a proficient recycler of 1970s-80s Soviet dissident stock of tropes about Russia that nobody there apart from a tiny self-styled intelligentsia in the capital cares the least about. In short, she is a marginally saner and much less entertaining version of the late Valeriya Novodvorskaya.

I recently returned from Moscow, having partaken of the May festivities there. For a whole week the air was filled with the rumbling of tanks and orchestras. I felt that I was not in Moscow, but in North Korea.

Hysterical Russophobia? Check.

One Italian restaurant owner advertised that Russians are not welcome at his establishment. This is a good metaphor. Today, the world once again begins to fear what is in that hole, that abyss, which combines in itself nuclear weapons, mad geopolitical ideas, and lack of respect for international law. I live with a sense of defeat.

One is tempted to wisecrack on whether she is describing the US here, but that will certainly not improve your chances of getting a Nobel.

We have to preserve this fragile peace established after the last war. We are talking about the Russian man, who in the past 200 years has spent 150 years of them at war. And never lived well. For him, human life is worthless, and his conception of greatness is not in the sense that people should live well, but that the state should be great and armed to the teeth with rockets. This gargantuan post-Soviet landscape, especially in Russia and Belarus, where the people were first lied to for 70 years, then looted for the next 20, has bred very aggressive people, who are very dangerous for the entire world.

I do so wonder why Russians and Belorussians aren’t rushing to buy her books! It must be the little Putin in all of them…

Of course Russian TV corrupts you. What the Russian media says today – they simply have to be prosecuted for it. For what they say about Europe, about Donbass, about Ukrainians… But this isn’t all. The problem is that people actually want to hear this. We can talk today about a collective Putin, because there is a Putin sitting in all Russians. The Red Empire has vanished, but its people have remained.

And, naturally, this people of vatniks and sovoks has to be dissolved, and another elected, as per Bertolt Brecht and the time-honored Russian liberal tradition of taking him so very literally.

The Nobel Prize is one of our world’s equivalents of dragons and shadowbabies.

As an ethnic Ukrainian with Belarussian citizenship writing in the Russian language, whose output mainly seems to consist of poorly disguised political polemics, she is an ideal tool to project Western soft power into the Russian world. Not just Russia itself, but also Ukraine and Belarus, the latter of which – quite coincidentally, surely – is having its Presidential elections a mere several days after the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature. From this perspective, she is in fact a very good candidate.

With a Nobel under her belt, a formerly second rate journalist and polemicist will be able to pontificate on her favorite themes with the authority of a secular prophetress.

There is nothing to be done about this, since neither Russia nor any other non-Western power has the soft power or cultural autonomy to offer a credible alternative to the Nobel Prize. It does however confirm that, much like the Peace Prize, the Literature Prize can be definitively ticked off as having anything to do with real human accomplishment in that sphere and instead be seen for what it is: As just another tool of Western political influence.

* EDIT 10/27/2015: As has just been brought to my attention, Keith Gessen is not the author of the quoted HRW piece, as was previously credited. That accolade belongs to Philip Gourevitch. Keith Gessen is her translator. I mistakenly got the impression he was the author because his byline appeared at the bottom of the page, but in my skim through of the piece, I failed to notice that Gessen’s byline merely referred to the translation at the end, whereas the editorial content that formed the bulk of the HRW page had been produced by Gourevitch. Sorry for the error.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. The prize is lipstick on a pig nowadays, even when it’s not about politics. How many new readers, or how much prophetic clout did that Swedish poet Tommy Transformer gain by winning it a few years ago, despite his cool name?

  2. Has someone done an analysis of the Nobel Prize-givers’ political economy? It, like the Cannes film festival, seems to have gotten heavily “geopoliticized.”

  3. Thank you for quoting my little blog. Those war-paint-like blobs on Alexievich’s face in the picture above reminded me of something: among other things, this is a case of Swedes rewarding a Ukrainian for attacking Russia. There’s a famous historical precedent for that.

  4. Stubborn in Germany says

    The Nobel Peace Prize descended into absurdity many years ago, the Literature prize a little later. When they awarded the clown Dario Fo, that sealed it. Briefly they returned to sanity when they picked V.S. Naipaul after 9/11, but that was a one-time aberration.

  5. the Cannes film festival, seems to have gotten heavily “geopoliticized.”

    Could you please expand on this?

  6. ” recall that Chernobyl blew up in 1986 – due to Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign.”


  7. jimmyriddle says

    “well, just One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, in Solzhenitsyn’s case”

    I’d add “Cancer Ward” and “Lenin in Zurich” (the only one of his historical novels that is any good, but it is very good, if malicious and ahistorical).

    She isn’t the first complete zero to win the Nobel literature prize. I stopped taking it seriously when they gave it to some Spaniard whose main achievement was a lexicon of obscenities.

  8. You were fooled by the use of – … – instead of ( … )

  9. Read all Solzhenitsyn. His publicistics is unreadable “The Letter To The Chiefs Of Soviet Union” is case in point. His “How We Are To Rearrange Russia” is another megalomaniac delirium. In terms of GULAG literature, Solzhenitsyn is a pale shadow of Shalamov, from whom he did steal most of real GULAG reflections. After all Solzh is known (documented) to give Shalamov high priority on this issue, especially since Solzhenitsyn spent his time mostly in Sharaga. And, then, comes this One Day (In Life) Of Ivan Denisovich (I may re-read it again, maybe tomorrow)–what is SO literature-wise awesome in that? And then comes the issue of Great Patriotic War and that is where it all stops.

  10. if malicious and ahistorical

    It was MO of Solzhenitsyn.

  11. Seamus Padraig says

    So I guess what we have here is the literary equivalent of Pussy Riot. And to think that Jorge Luís Borges never won the Nobel Prize for Literature!

    Seriously, I think I once read an editorial piece by this woman in a German newspaper–just chock full of anti-Russian clichés.

    That is what Keith Gessen, her translator (and brother of Masha Gessen, of “Je suis fromage” fame), ventures in his panegyric of her for Human Rights Watch …

    Gessen? Human Rights Watch? That explains a lot.

    As I said, I do not pretend to be any sort of expert on the sense of style. In fact, I am downright awful at it. (Just look at that weasel phrase at the beginning of the last sentence. And putting this in brackets. And starting sentences with “and”).

    Well, Anatoly, at least you have the capacity for self-criticism! 😉

  12. “The First Circle” is the Solzhenitsyn novel that impressed me.

    I’ve never even heard of this Alexievich, and I think I’m reasonably well informed as to who’s who in Russian language literature of today. Pelevin is a talented satirist or fantasist, as is Vladimir Sorokin, who doesn’t like Putin either but also has genuine literary talent. Since I haven’t read this year’s winner, I can’t compare, but I suspect they would make better choices. Or if they were looking at literature in Russian written in the rest of the former USSR they might have considered such writers as Andrei Kurkov in Ukraine, or the Riga-based writing team of Garros & Yevdokimov.

  13. FederalistForever says

    I generally agree with you regarding the (lack of) quality or merit of recent recipients of the Nobel Literature Prize, but we must acknowledge that they got it right in 2010 when they gave the award to the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa – a tremendous author with an amazing body of work, and who can be described politically as a “classical liberal” in the best sense of the term.

  14. Cliff Arroyo says

    I haven’t read anything of hers but I’ll mention that Alexievich is involved with testimonial literature which is about documenting past suffering as a way of coming to grips with the present and preparing for the future.

    On the whole, Russians seem singularly uninterested in examing the past and punishing the guilty. AFAICT there’s been no demand for settling accounts with the abuses of the Soviet period or the rape of Russia in the 1990s. It’s hardly surprising that one of the few writers examining such themes wouldn’t be known to Russian speakers.

    “What always surprised me is that when you travel across Lithuania and stop to talk to people, they immediately switch to political themes and speak about freedom and intellectual things. When you travel in our villages, people say: “What freedom do you mean? We have plenty of everything, we have a variety of sausages and a variety of vodkas.” When you try to involve them into a conversation, they look at you as if you were an alien.”

    source: https://charter97.org/en/news/2015/5/15/151651/

  15. What about 200 years together….not sure if it’s available in English.

  16. Just a small comment:
    First, Alexievich was apparantly nominated along with 2 other writers to the russian literature prize Bolsjaja Kniga last year. She did not win it but it seems that not everyone agree that she is a lousy writer that got the prize solely because of political reasons. That price is quite big in Russia, so being nominated to it must mean something.
    Secondly; as I understand it she did not get the prize for an excellent prose, or an outstanding language. She got it (according to comments in Sweden) because she combined journalism and literature in one genre, a genre they claim she excelled in. It was the novelty of that that made her a choice.
    Third, it was mentioned that she was a voice for the human side of Russian/East European history, as she brought the people never heard to the front and gave them a voice.
    Finally it was mentioned that she was not well known in Russia, Belarus or Ukraine since she was censored during the Soviet period and also later been a “disliked voice” by those in power. But that does not entitle you neither to get the price or to not get it. True, she is not well known in her own country but they do not look for the number one bestseller writer of a country. I have not read her and got no real opinion about her as a writer. Can only say that some Nobel prize winners are really great writers, others are not, in my eyes.

  17. You made me chuckle by that… thing… about Lithuanians, as a Lithuanian I can assure you we don’t immediately switch to political themes or speak about freedom ant intellectual things. And Charter 97 is famous for it’s “unbiased” views and “news” LOL.

  18. Fran Macadam says

    I guess you could say the prize is worth about the powder that Alfred Nobel blew to hell in order to finance it.

    “They might have been anti-Soviet, and justifiably so, but all of them produced real literary masterpieces (well, just One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, in Solzhenitsyn’s case, but even that is still one more than I am aware of Alexievich ever writing).”

    I consider Cancer Ward and The First Circle literary masterpieces – at least, in their English translations. Not quite up to Dostoyevsky, but then he wasn’t around to comment on what he prophesied. And who is up to the standard of Karamazov, arguably the finest achievement in the novel form in world literature?

  19. I think that Lithuanians -and Russians and Tunisians…- do not tend to switch to such themes among themselves but tend to do so when the interlocutor is a foreigner -as I believe was the mentioned case. In my opinion it is a behaviour that people developped throughout the ages when there was no media, or very restricted media and the foreign visitor was considered as the bearer of news and opinions; also people felt the duty of showing the foreigner how informed, cultured and knowledgeble they are.

  20. I was acquainted with a school principal (USA) who ran her institution like a gulag. I was amazed (in hindsight I’ve learned a lot and should have intuitively known) when she confided to me her favorite work was Solzhenitsyn’s great volume on the Soviet penal system. I had rather foolishly presumed the Gulag Archipelago would lead one to despise as opposed to inspire repression. I suppose she’d be one to snap up this trollop of literature’s work.

  21. assuming you are not being facetious, I’ll answer that: Solzhenitsyn’s 200 Years Together has no formal book publication in English because a certain Tribe whose machinations are the main topic of the work has a lock on both book publishing and distribution in the Anglosphere. There are, however, somewhat rough English translations of most of the important chapters, esp. from Vol. II, at a number of HardRight/Jew-wise internet sites

  22. Whatta joke, like Obama getting the Peace Prize.

    Must be a tough one for Philip Roth this year. Murakami, Amis, Oates, Rushdie still have time.

  23. thanks for this essay, Karlin. When National Public Radio (a Left-wing sonic hedge fund whose personnel consists largely of Reds, sodomites, and other Jews) spent 3 days rhapsodizing about this scribbler, I too wondered what it might be. Soon as I saw the name “Gessen” it all came into focus: yettanother Soros/CIA (see also: Masha) cognate who wants to bring the joys of our Hollywood/NY Jew-mediated Kosher Culture of Death – abortion/porn/feminism/homosex – to Russia

  24. War for Blair Mountain says

    You can start an English sentence with “And”. And you sure as hell can split infinitives. And war against Conservative Orthodox Christian Russia continues apace. And we all know who is waging it:The ethnic group that owns the Democratic Party. And semicolons are the equivalent of birdshit on a car window.

  25. James ben Goy says

    His Harvard commencement address was a masterpiece & every observation he made therein has, sadly, proven out

  26. olivegreen says

    You cannot punish the people who perpetrated the worst excesses of the Soviet period, as they are dead. Still, Stalinism gets discussed ad nauseam, especially by the older generations. When people complain about this topic not being sufficiently examined, what they generally mean is not everyone has yet agreed with their own opinion on it. As for calls to hold to account those responsible for the ’90s, you are very wrong – there have been plenty. Many people believe it should not have stopped at Khodorkovsky. And the horror of the ’90s is certainly a hot topic of discussion.

  27. “During the years of the Great Patriotic War,the German fascists destroyed 619 Belorussian villages together with their inhabitants.”

    Complete nonsense. There is zero proof for such propaganda and she cannot produce any.

    Apparently anyone can say anything they wish about the Germans and we’re all supposed to bow in obedience. It’s pure fantasy supported by a Jewish supremacist dominated media who milk these lies in order to keep their cash cow, the impossible ‘6M & gas chambers’ scam going.

    And why aren’t there excavations of the supposedly known enormous mass graves?
    Think about Treblinka and the alleged 900,000 Jews said to be buried there, but no excavation can be shown. We know why. It’s a lie, simple as that.


  28. AFAICT there’s been no demand for settling accounts with the abuses of the Soviet period or the rape of Russia in the 1990s.

    Alexievich is a “liberal”, meaning that she’s a part of the crowd that thinks that Russia wasn’t raped enough in the 1990s. Belarus was raped much, much less than Russia or the Ukraine because since 1994 it’s been run by a guy named Lukashenko, who has not allowed oligarchs to plunder it. You can look at GDP and social statistics – Belarus is doing really well compared to its neighbors because of that.

    Alexievich, who lives in Belarus, is a part of the crowd that calls Lukashenko a tyrant. She has allied herself with the people who would like to violently overthrow him and install a Yeltsin-like, Maidan-like oligarchic regime in his place, a regime that would plunder and rape that country.

  29. Borges de Oliveira says

    The opening sentences are quite illuminating:

    “I don’t make any claims to being some kind of hifalutin literatus. To the extent I read any fiction at all it is almost inevitably either sci-fi or fantasy. I am woefully uncultured when it comes to ‘Big L’ Literature […]”

    In other words, Anatoly Karlin is proud to be a philistine.

  30. The most deplorable one says

    I am sure she will make up for those failings when she publishes Putin’s Gay Gulag!

  31. The most deplorable one says

    So am I when it comes to the [propaganda] crap that the elites want us to read.

  32. The French 1930’s writer Celine used ellipses both profusely and well. But I can’t think of anyone else who repeated Celine’s accomplishment.

  33. “His Harvard commencement address was a masterpiece & every observation he made therein has, sadly, proven out”

    You mean the speech in which he came out against both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment? I had to go back and review the speech to make sure my memory was still correct and found the following paragraph:

    “This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very foundation of thought in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was born in the Renaissance and has found political expression since the Age of Enlightenment. It became the basis for political and social doctrine and could be called rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the pro-claimed and practiced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of all.”

    I hope you realize that the Age of Enlightenment produced both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, the two founding documents of the United States of America. That was when I came to the realization that Solzhenitsyn probably had more to say to Russians than to the people of the United States.

    BTW I agree with the author of this blog that One Day in the Life was a supremely powerful book. That alone would have justified the Nobel Prize.

  34. Seminumerical says

    I came across one of Naipaul’s Trinidad novels in the 80s, then systematically bought and read every book of his I could find. I had the good luck to have read An Area of Darkness before I travelled in India.

    Stuck in traffic and late for work on 9/11 I turned on the radio and heard the news. My first thought was of Naipaul’s Among the Believers.

    I was actually annoyed when he won the Nobel because by then the Literature prize had been handed out to so many bores that I thought it an insult. Literature prizes are a racket anyway.

    I once thought to read all the Booker Prize winners in order from the beginning. I didn’t get further than making up the list. I had never heard of most of them. Some weren’t even in print.

    I edited a crap novel last year that was shortlisted for various awards (I badly needed the money). It’s a dull first person account of experiences in a third world civil war, by an author with a third world surname. The reviews gushed about the “authentic voice” but the author had been in a very first world high school, with me, during the war. One of the historically inaccurate scenes was lifted straight out of an American war movie. Her surname was the only reason it was published.

  35. This is pretty funny.

    You should see US politics.

    Ben Carson and Carly the Bitch are calling for new cold war with Russia.

    And other GOP clowns are calling for same. Only Trump disagrees.

    It seems that the problem is Russia is now too conservative for the Goppers.

    During the Cold War, GOP hated Russia cuz it was too leftist and commie.

    Now, as GOP cucks for Jews, goppers hate Russia cuz it’s too nationalist and rightist.

    GOP sucks.

  36. Dont Leave out Rubiloco. He is calling for America to establish an no-fly zone in Syria.

  37. Andrew E. Mathis says

    Clearly you believe that the Nazis didn’t kill anyone who didn’t absolutely deserve it. Clearly as well, based on your posts here, you don’t like people who aren’t white and non-Jewish. So I guess I’m wondering why you aren’t a member of the Nazi Party? Care to respond?

  38. Joe Franklin says

    Are you waiting for forensic science evidence?

    You’ll be waiting a long time, forever.

  39. Nobel Prize degenerated into a total joke a while ago. I guess if they could give Peace Prize to the butcher of Syria, then they could certainly award literature prize to this latest mediocrity. If no money came attached to it, nobody would even mention it anymore.

  40. I don’t know if Churchill got his facts right, but maybe his team of researchers and ghostwriters did.

  41. “Just look at that weasel phrase at the beginning of the last sentence”

    “As I said” may be an empty phrase, but it’s not a weasel phrase. Weasel words and phrases suck the meaning out of the words around them, for example the “social” in “social justice.”

  42. “Who can say which Karamazov brother was right: Ivan or Alyosha?”

    If you don’t know Dostoevsky was on Alyosha’s side, I don’t know what book you were reading. Ivan inspired the murder, if inadvertently (but not innocently), or have you forgotten? There’s a mitigating factor, I suppose, in that at some point he succumbs to brain fever or demonic possession, not sure which. Alyosha, though not heroic, and not for that matter yet a fully developed adult, has the usual qualities of the Dostoevskian Holy Fool, which is his version of a hero.

    I don’t want to criticize Dostoevsky on this count, since one of my pet peeves is when all the characters in a work of fiction sound the same, and he is a grand master of characters that seem to act independently of his authority. Certainly he’s no propagandist, either, but he has his biases and axes to grind. Though he doesn’t create mouthpiece heroes, near as I can remember, he absolutely has ideological caricatures for villains. See Luzhin in “Crime and Punishment.”

    This idea that great artists have to be objective with their characters is madness. You are free to prefer Ivan, and Dostoevsky facilitates that by not making him a Luzhin. But there’s no doubt Dostoevsky preferred Alyosha and wanted you to, too.

  43. Andrew Nichols says

    The Nobel Prize committee is just another corrupted institution of the Deep State. As the ICC is their organ for beating up on the world’s petty war criminals, the NPC has become the awards ceremony for the champions of western soft power. If it was true to Nobel’s intent as (the current lawsuit attempts to return it to) Peace prizes would have gone to Snowden, Assange and Manning. The likes of Pinter would never have got a prize in literature today.

  44. Celine, or at least “Journey to the End of the Night” (haven’t read anything else), was great in spite of his ellipses, sentence fragments, repetitiveness, vulgarity, squalidness, and the general near-boredom that never actual becomes boring. Every time I read him he makes me feel like crap, but a good sort of crap. When other people write like him it makes me feel like actual crap, which suggests there might be something wrong with his style.

    He gets away with it, is all, and is not the sort of writer to emulate. Sort of like James Joyce, who more than any other individual writer has managed to ruin the genre of the novel. Except that I hate Joyce as much as his acolytes, whereas Celine is exceptional. I feel the same way about Kafka, that other father of modernist (and postmodernist) corruption, though I don’t like him as much as Celine. The two are similar in their matter of fact way of describing horror. If only they’d stop publishing poorly edited psuedo-fables and journeys into squalidness and endless ellipses not written by Celine and Kafka.

  45. The most deplorable one says

    Gasp, you big brave internet tough guy, you.

    You called him a Nazi.

    That is just so brave.

  46. I believe that this article by Anatoly aimed to give you a taste of her writing. Alright, she got a Nobel Literature Prize for merging journalism and literature. How many presstitutes do not have a geniuses of literature waiting to be discovered? One has to be really Western biased or brainwashed not to see an award to an anti-Russian Ukrainian journalist wanna-be writer with zero literal talent. As Seamus Padraig commented: Pussy Riot missed out on the Nobel Peace Prize, so this cheap Ukrainian presstitute got the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    For a millisecond I hoped that Julian Assange may get the Nobel Peace Prize this year, but the committee selected some obscure Tunisian group, totally irrelevant in the global scheme of things. It is similar in the economics, medicine and natural sciences, the decisions are becoming more and more politically biased. Just like when it awarded the EU the prize recently.

    As a Swede, you really need to face that the Nobel Prize Committees have become discredited by their own decisions, they are doing a worse job now than even during the Cold War. Perhaps, it is a good indication of the mental and moral decline of the European Nordics. The brand of the Nobel Prize is going down-market. I am sure that the Chinese will establish a less politically biased one soon.

  47. Now Jewish supremacist Mathis is becoming truly desperate.

    Andrew Mathis has been utterly demolished at:

    Mathis, also posts as ‘Thames Darwin’ demolished here:

    Alleged “mass graves” according to T. Darwin / Andrew Mathis

    ‘Andrew Mathis on Dachau, Majdanek, Auschwitz, Treblinka’

    Andrew Mathis, who also posts as ‘Thames Darwin’, gets shot down again:
    Anecdotal evidence & “holocaust survivors”

    holocaust’ denial article by Andrew Mathis debunked here’

    ‘Prof. Mc Nally dissects HHP’s Andrew Mathis’ bogus article’

    ‘Holo. Hist. Proj.’s Andrew Mathis on Zyklon scent removal’

    ‘Green, Mathis refuted / cyanide: lice, humans, & more’

    ‘Believer org. spokesman, Andrew Mathis, demolished in debate’

    ‘Holo. Hist. Proj.’s Andrew Mathis attempts damage control’

    ‘Email from Andrew Mathis (The Holocaust History Project)’

    ‘holocaust’ History Project to unveil section on Treblinka’

  48. Indeed, there is no forensic evidence for the impossible ‘6M & gas chambers’.
    The only thing presented at Nuremberg was a communist report on ‘steam chambers’, hilarious.
    No enormous mass graves as alleged can be actually shown. Not one.
    The ‘gas chambers’ as alleged are scientifically absurd.
    Jews were everywhere after WWII.
    There are just too many $urvivors for the tall tale of ‘extermination’.

    But some people are making a lot of money, albeit unethically.

    Joe, come on over to:
    and join the fun.

  49. James ben Goy says

    His point was the loss of spirituality and the shift toward ever more materialism, which he rightly or wrongly attributed to the cultural phoenomena you cite. As to the Dec & the Constitution & all of the rights obtained thereby, all were enjoyed in some societies in antiquity, & in fact are the original source. But thanks for the history lesson nonetheless

  50. Anatoly Karlin says

    About the journalism/literature debate:

    I should stress that in cases such as this, you absolutely must apply a different set of criteria in assessing quality. She is an explicitly non-fiction writer, the only one to be recognized as such by the Nobel committee apart from Churchill. But as Lazy Glossophiliac and myself demonstrated from the first few pages of one of her books, she has an exceedingly sloppy and careless attitude towards facts. What guarantee is there that she isn’t performing similar “embellishments” on her “real life” stories?

    Take the example of the British journalist Johann Hari. He was also a “dissident” journalist (albeit targetted at the “wrong” people and institutions) with a distinct and masterful sense of style. But it later emerged he was also a plagiarist who made stuff up on occasions. For that, he was (rightly) excommunicated from journalism. Of course I am not claiming Alexievich’s embellishments are anything like Hari’s, but the cavalier disregard for facts and statistics does make one wonder.

  51. Solzhenitsyn always struck me the poor equivalent of Dostoevsky, without the humour.

  52. jimmyriddle says

    IIRC Hari’s real “crime” was vandalizing some other journalist’s wikipedia entry after a twitter spat.

    The British press tend to be lax about plagiarism. Hari basically lifted quotes from previous interviews. Luke Harding, who still works for The Guardian, plagiarised shamelessly in a book about Putin (IIRC it had to re-issued with the offending sections removed or attributed).

    Harding was actually awarded the James Cameron Prize last year – named for the acclaimed British journalist (who is spinning in his grave), not the film director.

  53. jimmyriddle says

    His books are full of grim humour. Eg the preface of Gulag v1 which describes prisoners eating prehistoric fish found in fossil ice as “eschewing the higher claims of ichthyology”.

    Or the first chapter of Gulag v2 where he describes how everyone from a professor to the village idiot responds to the phrase: “You are under arrest!”, with a bleat of : “Me? What for?”.

    Lenin in Zurich is brilliant satire etc

  54. Peter Grafström says

    Anatoly ‘Lazy’ Karlin
    may be too quick to label as ‘hot air’ and ‘nothing technical’ the suggestion that there was something fishy about the Chernobyl event. Maybe she simply listens to the debate without filtering and sometimes may catch something not discussed in the west. Reagan approved of sabotage of pipelines in the Ussr in 1982. The strange false alarm of an attack in 1983 during a Nato drill. The Us propaganda was preparing the Us public for a winnable nuclear war. ‘With enough shovels’ by Robert Scheer from 1982 is telling.
    The Chernobyl catastrophe had for effect to waste the opportunities for development of third world economies via french and Sovjet nuclear reactors and was a blow against those two economies. Multiple flies in one swat by the malthusian angloamerican oligarchy. Add to that the oil price shock around that time…

  55. I read about 10% – 15% of Alexievich’s book. She mentioned the possibility that the accident was caused by Western sabotage twice there. Of course she did it dismissively, as an example of the craziness of the old USSR. Russosphere liberals like her worship the Western powers that be.

    She wrote that soon after the accident KGB descended on Chernobyl to investigate and that they were looking for signs of Western sabotage. The book’s first interview was with the wife of one of the firefighters who was called to put out the fire and who later died of radiation sickness. The wife told Alexievich that the firefighter told her in the hospital that the disaster was caused by sabotage.

    Gorbachev wanted to make peace with the US. If he was told by the KGB that the disaster was caused by Western intelligence services, would he have hushed up that information? I’d say it’s unlikely but not impossible.

    At the time there were jokes going around in the USSR about Chernobyl and Challenger being quid-pro-quo situations. If I had to bet, I’d say that both were accidents. But it’s not something I can be 100% sure of.

  56. Fran Macadam says

    The contrary inspiration effect is well known. Ask Director Oliver Stone and actor Michael Douglas how nonplussed they were when stockbrokers asked for autographs in the Manhatten waterholes they frequented, idolizing Douglas’ Gordon Gekko character (“Greed is Good”) as inspiration and ersatz mentor to be emulated, rather than the cautionary tale against immoral financial misbehavior they intended “Wall Street” to be.

  57. Fran Macadam says

    It’s hard not to be partial to the doubter who regaled Alyosha with the Grand Inquisitor story.

  58. Seminumerical says
  59. You can be partial to Ivan all you want, even morally partial. Let’s just not pretend Dostoevsky was, nor that he wasn’t trying to influence you against Ivan. Which may be hard to believe considering what a mighty artistic achievement is Ivan as a character, but great persuaders often make the case harder for themselves. Though I can believe Dostoevsky could be on Ivan’s side as regards the Grand Inquisitor because of his hate for the Catholic church, I absolutely cannot believe he shares Ivan’s antitheism, which is the more important thing.

  60. Andrew E. Mathis says

    You didn’t answer the question.

  61. I was trying to find a short story or chapter/excerpt of her fiction translated into English. But I have not found anything. Anyone have any leads? Thanks.

  62. Hi Kiza,

    It is similar in the economics, medicine and natural sciences,

    In economics I agree, but in medicine and natural sciences? (love to hear your thoughts)

  63. Andrew E. Mathis says

    Here I am posting under my own name.

    You? Not so much, eh?

  64. You post your mainstream conformist opinions under your own name? So brave.

  65. Andrew E. Mathis says

    Getting so you can’t even wear a white robe and hood anymore, eh? You poor thing, you.

  66. The most deplorable one says

    On the internet no one can tell that Andrew E Mathis is really a dog.

    It’s the ideas that count, not the name.

  67. First you mock people for hiding their identities behind false names then you mock them for not being able to wear identity hiding robes and hoods.

  68. First you mock people for hiding their identities behind false names then you mock them for not being able to wear identity hiding robes and hoods.

    I don’t see any upside to using my real name, on the other hand their are obvious downsides. So I don’t do it. If it is cowardice to avoid doing things with obvious downsides and no upsides, then why don’t you stick a fork in your eye? Are you a coward?

  69. “As to the Dec & the Constitution & all of the rights obtained thereby, all were enjoyed in some societies in antiquity, & in fact are the original source. ”

    I see you say “societies in antiquity.” And what was the Renaissance other than a rediscovery of the glories and intellectual traditions of those “societies in antiquity,” ancient Greece and ancient Rome before the thousand-year interregnum of Christianity threw a dark pall over the intellectual thoughts of the West and forced men to think about really important things like how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. (Or, going back to the early days of Christianity as the “official” religion of the Roman Empire, whether the Son was “of the same substance yet not identical to the Father” as the Church struggled to explain why their “monotheistic” religion worshipped a three-part god.) In fact, it is well established that the Founding Fathers used their knowledge of ancient Greek and especially ancient Roman history in fashioning the institutions of the new American government. I don’t recall reading that the Founding Fathers paid particular attention to the thousand year reign of the Catholic Church in fashioning their new republic.

    Well, I am also glad for the history lesson. I didn’t realize the First Amendment’s protection of religion always existed and that the Inquisition against the Albigensians didn’t occur and that the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries didn’t happen. I also am relieved to learn that the First Amendment’s protection of free speech had long existed and that Giordano Bruno was not burned at the stake in 1600 by the Inquisition for saying and writing things that the Roman Catholic Church didn’t agree with. I won’t even mention Galileo.

  70. Seamus Padraig says

    Off-Guardian has also offered a very critical assessment of our new Nobel-laureate for literature: http://off-guardian.org/2015/10/17/svetlana-alexievich-the-nobel-prize-and-western-media/

  71. Hello Sam,

    I missed your comment and question, sorry.

    What I know about the Prizes for Natural Sciences is that a couple of them where given to self-promoters and people whose teams have made achievements, but they as team administrators got the prize. Similar to rewarding the University Dean for the achievements of its School Of Physics.

    Therefore, the issue there is not a political bias, then inability or unwillingness to discern who has really achieved and who really deserves the Prize.

  72. yaqub the mad scientist says

    One Italian restaurant owner advertised that Russians are not welcome at his establishment.

    I don’t believe it.

    That is what Keith Gessen, her translator (and brother of Masha Gessen, of “Je suis fromage” fame), ventures in his panegyric of her for Human Rights Watch:

    The influence of this family of rent-a-dissidents is mind-boggling. Since they’re also put up in tony NYC by the government, I wonder if they have brunch with Saakashvili sometimes.

  73. Seamus Padraig says

    In case this thread isn’t completely dead yet…

    It appears that Alexievich is no Solzhenitsin. In fact, back in the 70s when it still mattered, our new Nobel laureate–that brave rebel against Soviet conformism!–once wrote a paean in praise of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the USSR’s secret police:

    The essay ends with her words: “When my son grows up, we will naturally come to this place – to make a bow to the enduring spirit of Felix Dzerzhinsky – ‘the sword and flame of proletarian revolution” – Svetlana Alexievich.


  74. Anatoly Karlin says

    Noticed that on my FB feed as well today.

    I hate wasting column space on a mediocrity, but this is too good not to write a post about! I already have half of it done.

  75. Seamus Padraig says

    Can’t wait!

    And don’t feel bad, Anatoly. If the Nobel Committee could waste a prize on her, you can find it in yourself to waste a column.

  76. Unprofessional pseudo article!
    Why Alexievich, why not to comment on chemistry laureate or maybe physics? Oh, too easy to talk as an ignoramus but anybody can discuss literature, right?

    Dear author, thanks for sharing a txt file with a book! I am wondering how many readers are fluent in Russian mixed with Belarussian. Sure, a more logical version – in English – can cause copyright problems but who cares about Russian?

    It’s just a pity that nobody can open and read the book but I did and couldn’t stop reading. At the very beginning there is a story about a pregnant 23-year-old woman who has 14 days to watch her husband dying from radiation, losing hair and pieces of skin, eating his own lungs and liver, bleeding, getting bones part from muscles … She is not even supposed to touch or kiss him goodbye. I wanted to cry… But the author hasn’t read it, he counted ellipses. You don’t need to speak Russian to do so. His verdict: too many. Is there a formula to calculate a right number of ellipses in a literary text worthy of Nobel Prize?

    The author hasn’t read a single book of hers but is very smart to use a Google graph to figure out which other Russian authors are mentioned more in the press. So he comes up with more suitable candidates: Akunin and Lukyanenko among them. Akunenko writes about spies, Lukyanenko writes about vampires. Ok, I suggest Stephenie Meyer for the next year then! But American readers don’t know those Russian writers anyway, so why not to throw some names?
    And why would you laugh at Alexievich’s idea that ‘Chernobyl was ‘the main event of the 20th century, in spite of all terrible wars and revolutions’. Dear author, have you at least tried to google Chernobyl? Two world wars have ended but the damage from Chernobyl will be felt for the next thousands of years.

    And maybe the fact that 2016 will be at the same time a 30th anniversary of Chernobyl and a time to renovate a sarcophagus is still worthy of drawing world’s attention to?