WILL a Filipino win a Nobel Prize for Literature in my lifetime? We don’t know. The best bet, according to bettors, are Sionil Jose or Frankie Joe and Virgilio Almario or Rio Alma. But we don’t know if there are Swedish translations of Frankie Joe’s novels or Rio Alma’s poetry books; because even if you have a sizable collection of works, it all depends if there were any translated in Swedish. A small group of Swedish literary academicians decide on who is the 113th Nobel Literature laureate (that’s for next year) and if you have no book in Swedish you’re gone. An online paper said that Frankie Joe had a 1:50 chance of making it. He is now 91. Once you’re dead, you’re out; unless you were chosen on the year of your death.
So Philip Roth and Haruki Murakami were this year’s frontliners. And yet again, it was someone we didn’t know who won: Svetlana Alexievich of Belorussia won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. My first reaction was: who the hell is this poet? Google, google. OMG She is a journalist! And one of her works is handed free in the Internet so far.
And Alexievich wasn’t a surprise, it turned out. A London betting establishment said that she is actually the third favorite, after Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Murakami. And the accolades came fast, even among my friends.
Wilfredo Pascual, one of the more famous creative nonfictionist said, “Noong mid-80s at kasisimula pa lang ilaunch ang career ni Jaclyn Jose sa mga bold movies ay nanalo siya kaagad ng Best Actress. Sa mga nabasa kong interview ay nag-iyakan daw ang mga bold star. Huhuhu, iyak nila, "Pwede rin palang maging best actress ang isang bold star." My feeling about nonfiction writer Svetlana Alexievich winning the Nobel.”
Alexievich, herself once said, “Reality has always attracted me like a magnet, tortured and hypnotized me, and I wanted to capture it on paper. So I immediately appropriated this genre of actual human voices and confessions, witness evidences and documents. This is how I hear and see the world—as a chorus of individual voices and a collage of everyday details. In this way all my mental and emotional potential is realized to the full. In this way I can be simultaneously a writer, reporter, sociologist, psychologist and preacher.”
New Yorker, champion of long-form journalism and creative nonfiction, immediately came to Alexievich’s rescue (as if she needed rescuing). They immediately revived Philip Gouveritch’s essay, “Nonfiction Deserves a Nobel” about Alexievich and why it’s high time she wins.
“Alexievich builds her narratives about Russian national traumas—the Soviet-Afghan war, for instance, or the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe—by interviewing those who lived them, and immersing herself deeply in their testimonies. But her voice is much more than the sum of their voices,” he said.
He mentioned a surreal reportage called “Zinc Coffins” by Alexievich in an old Granta quarterly and fortunately I have it. It was later turned into a book, Zincy Boys about the Russian soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and came back dead.
Her first book translated in English is “War’s Unwomanly Face.” It was described as: “Alexievich’s debut gives a voice to the thousands of Soviet women who participated in the Second World War alongside the men, from nursing the injured to killing the enemy themselves. Alexievich visited over 100 towns to record these women’s stories, and uses their heart-wrenching personal accounts to form a damning denouncement of fascism.”
The third book is “Voices from Chernobyl” which someone sent me only last Thursday.
Here is one passage which immediately struck me: “A policeman is walking alongside a woman who carries a basket of eggs. He walks with her to make sure that she buries the eggs in the ground because they are radioactive. They buried milk, they buried meat, they buried bread; it was like an endless funeral procession for inanimate objects. Thousands of soldiers sliced off the top layer of the soil, which had been contaminated, and they buried it. They took ground and they buried it in the ground. And everyone who was involved turned into a philosopher because there was nothing in the human past that enabled us to deal with this situation.”
How strange! From this alone, I think I am optimistic about the Nobel again.