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Chernobyl creator Svetlana Alexievich on telling the human stories of war: ‘How could people kill and not go mad?’

Soviet children in an air raid shelter during the Second World War
Soviet children in an air raid shelter during the Second World War

Some time in the early Eighties, Svetlana Alexievich, who would go on to become the first journalist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, had a conversation with a Soviet censor. She had written and was attempting to publish a book about women who had fought in the Soviet army during the Second World War, of whom there were close to a million. Alexievich had recorded the voices of more than 500. The censor had deleted many of them from the manuscript.

“We don’t need your little history,” said the censor. “We need the big history. You don’t love our heroes! You don’t love our great ideas.”

“True,” Alexievich said. “I don’t love great ideas. I love the little human being.”

An uncensored edition...

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