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Svetlana Alexievich to Receive the 2013 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

The Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association has chosen Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievitch to be the recipient of this year’s Peace Prize. The announce-ment was made by Prof. Dr. Gottfried Honnefelder, Chairman of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, at the start of the 2013 Buchtage Berlin (Berlin Book Days). The award ceremony will take place during the Frankfurt Book Fair on Sunday, October 13, 2013, in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt, Germany. The ceremony will also be broadcast live on the German public TV channel ZDF. The Peace Prize has been awarded since 1950 and is endowed with a sum of €25,000.

2013 Swetlana Alexijewitsch

The Board of Trustees issued the following statement with regard to their choice: »The German Publishers and Booksellers Association awards its 2013 Peace Prize to Svetlana Alexievich. In doing so, the association and its members have chosen to honor a Belarusian author who has consistently and effectively traced the lives and experiences of her fellow citizens in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine by articulating their passions and sorrows in a humble and generous manner. Her tragic chronicles of the individual human fates involved in the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the unfulfilled longing for peace after the crumbling of the Soviet Empire give tangible expression to a fundamental undercurrent of existential disappointment that is difficult to disregard.« 

Svetlana Alexievich was born on May 31, 1948 in the West Ukrainian town of Stanislav (today's Ivano-Frankivsk). After completing her studies in journalism, she worked at a local newspaper and as a teacher at a local school in Belarus. In the following year, she began work at a regional newspaper in Minsk and then, in 1976, as a correspondent for the literary magazine »Neman.«

Alexievich tried her hand at several literary genres, including short stories, essays and reportages, and soon developed a literary method that sought to enable »the closest possible portrayal of life as it truly is« – a chorus of individual voices that ultimately leads to a collage of everyday life.

Alexievich applied this method for the first time in her book »War’s Unwomanly Face« (U voyny ne zhenskoe litso) which she completed in 1983. In this book, the author uses a series of interviews to examine the fate of female Soviet soldiers in the Second World War. In the course of her subsequent battle with censors, Alexievich was accused of »staining the honor of the Great Patriotic War« and also lost her job due to her supposed »anti-communist attitude.« Only with the advent of Perestroika in the Soviet Union was the book finally published in 1985 (1988 in English) at the same time as her next book »The Last Witnesses« (Poslednie svideteli, 1985), in which she portrays the painful experiences of her own family in the Second World War and the Stalin era.As with each one of her books,

Alexievich worked on her subsequent work, »Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War« (Tsinkovye mal'chiki, 1989) for many years. She completed more than five hundred interviews with veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan as well as with the mothers of soldiers who died in that war – the so-called »zinky boys« whose remains were brought home in zinc coffins. The publication of this book forced her to appear several times before the court in Minsk starting in 1992, although she was ultimately never convicted of any crime.

Her next work »Enchanted with Death« (Zaoèarovannye smert'ju, 1993) was followed by her book about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine: »Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster« (Tschernobylskaja molitwa, 1997) is a psychological portrait of those people directly affected by the catastrophe. The book's harrowing reports on the human impact of nuclear »accidents« immediately became a moving lesson for people worldwide in how to deal with the consequences of such catastrophes.

At this point in her career, the attacks on Alexievich by the Belarusian regime under President Lukashenko began to increase. Her telephone was bugged and she was banned from making public appearances. She found refuge in Paris for a number of years and then received a residency scholarship in Stockholm as well as the DAAD Artists' Program in Berlin, among others. In 2011, in spite of her opposition to the dictatorial system in Belarus, which continued to make it very difficult for her to live and work in freedom, Alexievich moved back to Minsk.

From the very beginning, Svetlana Alexievich has created her own aesthetic literary genre, often referred to as the »novel of voices.« Her entire oeuvre – including her latest work to be published in German, »Secondhand-Zeit. Leben auf den Trümmern des Sozialismus« (scheduled for publication in September 2013) – reads like an ongoing history of Russia since the Second World War. Indeed, Alexievich's chronicles of emotional history have prompted many to refer to her as the "moral memory" of those people living in the former Soviet states.