Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets (1st 7 weeks)
W 2019

Description

Secondhand Time is the most recent work by Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian writer who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. Over the course of several years Alexievich conversed with hundreds of ordinary Russians who lived through the fall of the Soviet Union. Some were old enough to remember the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, others young enough that they remembered little about the Soviet era. Alexievich arranged the material into what she calls “a history of emotions.” Secondhand Time fuses reportage, history, sociology, politics, and philosophy. Yet each account retains the intimacy and immediacy of its source—a life story told over tea in a Russian kitchen. The Wall Street Journal calls Secondhand Time, “in its scope and wisdom, comparable to War and Peace.”

During the century described by the combined voices in Secondhand Time, other writers were toiling with similar material in a more polished, but equally intimate, genre—the lyric poem.  As a balance and complement to the vast prose canvas of Secondhand Time, we will also read a selection of relevant Russian poetry from 1917 through the twenty-first century, including both famous poets like Pasternak and Akhmatova and poets more recent and lesser known.

 Our two-genre view should enrich our understanding of a country that remains alien and antagonistic to us. We’ll also discuss the art of the lyric poets and of Svetlana Alexievich. How has her acquisition, editing, and structuring of her material created a book with such overwhelming impact and depth? Has she, as some say, invented a new—and necessary—genre?

Weekly Topics

Week 1 – January 7     Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, pp. vii-77                       

Chronology: Russia After Stalin (pp. ix-xiv)           

Remarks from an Accomplice (pp. 3-11)   

PART ONE: ­ THE CONSOLATION OF APOCALYPSE

Snatches of Street Noise and Kitchen Conversations (1991-2001) (pp. 15-38)

Ten Stories in a Red Interior

On the Beauty of Dictatorship and the Mystery of Butterflies Crushed Against the Pavement (pp. 41-77)

+ two post-Soviet poems selected by the discussion leader (for sources, see Bibliography and coordinator) 


Week 2 – January 14     Alexievich, pp. 78-141           

On Brothers and Sisters, Victims and Executioners...and the Electorate (pp. 78-90)

On Cries and Whispers . . . and Exhilaration (pp. 91-106)

On the Lonely Red Marshal and Three Days of Forgotten Revolution (pp. 107-141)

 + two post-Soviet poems selected by the discussion leader (for sources, see Bibliography and coordinator) 


Week 3 – January 21     Alexievich, pp. 142-209           

On the Mercy of Memories and the Lust for Meaning (pp. 142-164)

On a Different Bible and a Different Kind of Believer (pp. 165-186)

On the Cruelty of the Flames and Salvation from Above (pp. 187-209)

 + two post-Soviet poems selected by the discussion leader (for sources, see Bibliography and coordinator) 


Week 4 – January 28     Alexievich, pp. 210-281           

On the Sweetness of Suffering and the Trick of the Russian Soul (pp. 210-235)

On a Time When Anyone Who Kills Believes That They Are Serving God (pp. 236-247)

On the Little Red Flag and the Smile of the Axe (pp. 248-281)

 + two post-Soviet poems selected by the discussion leader (for sources, see Bibliography and coordinator) 


Week 5 – February 4     Alexievich, pp. 283-349           

PART TWO: ­ THE CHARMS OF EMPTINESS

Snatches of Street Noise and Kitchen Conversations (2002-2012) (pp. 285-301)

Ten Stories in the Absence of an Interior

            On Romeo and Juliet . . . Except Their Names Were Margarita and Abulfaz (pp. 305-319)

On People Who Instantly Transformed After the Fall of Communism (pp. 320-336)

On a Loneliness That Resembles Happiness (pp. 337-349)

 + two post-Soviet poems selected by the discussion leader (for sources, see Bibliography and coordinator) 


Week 6 – February 11     Alexievich, pp. 350-413           

On Wanting to Kill Them All and the Horror of Realizing You Really Wanted to Do It (pp. 350-365)

On the Old Crone with a Braid and the Beautiful Young Woman (pp. 366-388)

On a Stranger's Grief That God Has Deposited on Your Doorstep (pp. 389-402)

On Life the Bitch and One Hundred Grams of Fine Powder in a Little White Vase (pp. 403-413)

 + two post-Soviet poems selected by the discussion leader (for sources, see Bibliography and coordinator) 


Week 7 – February 18     Alexievich, pp. 414-470           

On How Nothing Disgusts the Dead and the Silence of Dust (pp. 414-433)

On the Darkness of the Evil One and "The Other Life We Can Build Out of This One” (pp. 434-453)

On Courage and What Comes After (pp. 454-468)

Notes from an Everywoman (pp. 469-470)

+ two post-Soviet poems selected by the discussion leader (for sources, see Bibliography and coordinator) 


Bibliography

CORE TEXT:

Alexievich, Svetlana. Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. Random House, 2016.

 

SOURCES FOR POST-SOVIET RUSSIAN POETRY:

Bunimovich, Evgeny, ed. Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology. Dalkey Archive Press, 2008.

Golub, Peter, ed. New Russian Poetry. Jacket Magazine, Volume 36. 
http://jacketmagazine.com/36/index.shtml#rus

Polukhina, Valentina  and Daniel Weissbort, ed. An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets. University of Iowa Press, 2005.

ShmailoLarissa, ed.Twenty-First Century Russian Poetry. 

http://bigbridge.org/BB17/poetry/twentyfirstcenturyrussianpoetry/twenty-first-century-russian-poetry-contents.html

 

OTHER BOOKS BY SVETLANA ALEXIEVICH:

Alexievich, Svetlana. The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II. Random House, 2017.

Alexievich, Svetlana. Voices From Chernobyl. Dalkey Archive Press, 2005.

Alexievich, Svetlana. Zinky Boys. W. W. Norton & Co., 1992. [An oral history of the Russian-Afghan War of 1979-1989.]

TO BE PUBLISHED 2019: 

Alexievich, Svetlana. Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II. Random House, 2019.