Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
RaveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)In stark contrast with the official myth of the war, the hundred fragmentary reminiscences that make up Last Witnesses contain only the slightest reminders of ideology. Even the names of Soviet leaders are few and far between. Instead, personal emotion and naive recollection come to the fore ... Last Witnesses is an intricate lacework of speech and silence ... Ellipses break up nearly every paragraph as Alexievich’s subjects recall the banality of deprivation, hunger and fear alongside the horror of bloodshed and cruelty. This is silence elevated into allegory ... Aside from the interviewee’s (perhaps fictional) name, age at war’s outbreak, and adult profession, we learn nearly no details of his or her later biography or of when and where the account was recorded. This decontextualization has the effect of integrating each individual voice into a chorus of shared motifs ... Key to this polyphony are the idiosyncrasies and rhythms of oral speech that Alexievich captures and that Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky expertly preserve in their translation from the Russian ... Last Witnesses is a masterly and potent reminder that the memory of loss belongs to individuals and communities, and not to the states that turn its psychic energy to other ends.