Favorite Reads 2016: Second-hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich

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Suddenly Russia is very, very on trend! If you want a volume of insight into the post-Soviet mind, there are probably few if any books that would do you better than this.

Were this all that Second-hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich did, that would be much more than enough. But this in fact is only the first important thing this book does. The narratives in this book have such emotional power, such range, such philosophical depth, such insight, such observations. Did I mention they are also simply beautiful and engrossing to read?

In addition to this, Alexievich knows how to engage with Russia’s long history—it’s not for nothing that this book prominently features Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor discussing the riddle of freedom in its opening pages. Although Second-hand Time does not always address Russia’s history with that directness, it is true that this is a concern throughout. Alexievich knows how to channel the big arguments regarding the major historical forces of the region and the 20th century into these stories, but to do it lightly, so as to never compromise the individuals who are sharing their lives with her.

Few books I’ve read this year are both so absolutely necessary and such an incredible reading experience. Read this!



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