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Publisher's Summary

The magnum opus and latest work from Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature - a symphonic oral history about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia.

When the Swedish Academy awarded Svetlana Alexievich the Nobel Prize, it cited her for inventing "a new kind of literary genre", describing her work as "a history of emotions - a history of the soul". Alexievich's distinctive documentary style, combining extended individual monologues with a collage of voices, records the stories of ordinary women and men who are rarely given the opportunity to speak, whose experiences are often lost in the official histories of the nation.

In Secondhand Time, Alexievich chronicles the demise of communism. Everyday Russian citizens recount the past 30 years, showing us what life was like during the fall of the Soviet Union and what it's like to live in the new Russia left in its wake. Through interviews spanning from 1991 to 2012, Alexievich takes us behind the propaganda and contrived media accounts, giving us a panoramic portrait of contemporary Russia and Russians who still carry memories of oppression, terror, famine, massacres - but also of pride in their country, hope for the future, and a belief that everyone was working and fighting together to bring about a utopia. Here is an account of life in the aftermath of an idea so powerful it once dominated a third of the world.

A magnificent tapestry of the sorrows and triumphs of the human spirit woven by a master, Secondhand Time tells the stories that together make up the true history of a nation. "Through the voices of those who confided in her," The Nation writes, "Alexievich tells us about human nature, about our dreams, our choices, about good and evil - in a word, about ourselves."

©2016 Svetlana Alexievich (P)2016 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“There are many worthwhile books on the post-Soviet period and Putin’s ascent.... But the nonfiction volume that has done the most to deepen the emotional understanding of Russia during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union of late is Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history Secondhand Time.” (David Remnick, The New Yorker)

“Like the greatest works of fiction, Secondhand Time is a comprehensive and unflinching exploration of the human condition.... Alexievich’s tools are different from those of a novelist, yet in its scope and wisdom, Secondhand Time is comparable to War and Peace.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“The most ambitious Russian literary work of art of the century... There’s been nothing in Russian literature as great or personal or troubling as Secondhand Time since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, nothing as necessary and overdue.... Alexievich’s witnesses are those who haven’t had a say. She shows us from these conversations, many of them coming at the confessional kitchen table of Russian apartments, that it’s powerful simply to be allowed to tell one’s own story.... This is the kind of history, otherwise almost unacknowledged by today’s dictatorships, that matters.” (The Christian Science Monitor)

What listeners say about Secondhand Time

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The Heart, Soul & Iron Fist Of Russia

Prepare yourself. This is not an easy listening experience. Simply put a tour de force from Alexievich. Harrowing, horrifying and heartbreaking but at the same time offering an incredibly insightful and deeply encompassing exploration into Russia and her people.

This is a book that will knock you to your knees and have you repeatedly trying to catch your breath. Not for the faint of heart but worth every minute if you want to begin to understand what makes Russia Russia.

Read the other reviews--many have said it better. Just know there is a reason this book won the Nobel Prize for literature. A must listen for the history lover--but know that listener strength is required.

40 people found this helpful

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Perfect / Stay With It

I dove into this book not knowing anything about it -- nor, honestly, about Russian history -- and it took me a minute to get into the material and comprehend its rhythm. It opens with a brief chronology of Russia from 1953 - 2014, then presents an oral history, interviews with Russians, with little context or explanation. For instance: "Snatches of Street Noise and Kitchen Conversations, 1991 - 2001," in which various citizens muse and opine and tell stories, as if you're sitting in a smoky bar, just overhearing snatches of conversation. It's a bit dizzying. But if you bear with it, after a minute you'll get into the groove and hear unforgettable stories about life in Russia in the second half of the 20th Century. After finishing it I'm still quite confused about events and key players, but the book presents a fascinating emotional, personal history, and I will remember some of these stories for a long time.

The audiobook works exceptionally well thanks to expert direction and a brilliant cast of narrators, some of the best readers in the business. The way they embody the stories here is remarkable and haunting. Give it a shot. Just keep listening and don't worry too much if you get lost for a bit here and there, especially early on.

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This is the way to experience Alexievich

Is there a better writer out there today than Svetlana Alexievich? You'd be hard pressed to find one. "Secondhand Time" is her finest work yet, an absolute masterpiece that more than explains how Alexievich walked away with the most recent Nobel Prize for Literature. And what better way to experience "Secondhand Time" than here. No, there is no better way. This is one of the best audiobooks you'll ever listen to!

13 people found this helpful

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The mind cannot understand Russia

"Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone,
No ordinary yardstick can span her greatness:
She stands alone, unique –
In Russia, one can only believe." - Fyodor Tyutchev

Russia and the spirit and soul of the Russians are very complex at times to foreign minds. My fiance was Russian and left me with so many headaches often trying to understand why she would think a certain way, or always become pessimistic. With this in mind I looked at this book as a way to understand the great change that faced Russia most recently, the collapse of the USSR, the Rise of the Oligarchs, and the Chechen war.

Svetlana Alexievich does a great job of fairly capturing the tragic stories of people from the rural parts to the cities, the staunch communist and the budding democrat and the shock of losing all that they had believed in and worked for during the USSR. Combine this with a growing population ready for freedom but naive and uneducated in what to do in the wilderness of capitalism and tragedy and chaos ensues.

This book is dark and sad. At times, really dark and sad! You visualize the despair and disillusionment as you see another parent drink themselves to death, another wife/husband murdered, a mother telling that she will rejoin her child staying with her aunt hours before jumping in front of a train. You see the depths of depravity as a union of connected countries forced to be brothers are set free and true feelings explode. Through it all, through the carelessness, you see the strength of the Russian soul to persevere through any tragedy, to die before submitting, to dampen desires for love at times, and at times throw their entire family away for a new love. The Slavic soul and spirit is complex and bewildering at times, but this book does a wonderful job of providing context.

For anyone with any interest in Russian/USSR history, interest in learning about the people and culture, or just interest in understanding human psychology at the extremes of hardship, I cannot recommend this book enough!

17 people found this helpful

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A Detailed and Compelling Series of Histories

Svetlana Alexievich shows her competence as a journalist here and lets the memories of many men and women speak for themselves throughout this novel. Some stories are more detailed, more memorable than others. There were sections where only a sentence was given, and that sentence only a few words. Alexievich gives each narrator as much space as they want, and that is a rare thing. The full cast of readers also does an admirable job in trying to make each of these narrators distinct. Highly recommended.

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A book that changes your perspective & read again

if you want something to challenge your views on people, nations, religion or politics then this is a book for you. I felt sad when I finished work
this book - because I missed listening to people's stories. stories that one would never hear unless this book was here.

it is raw - it takes some time to understand how it is structured. but it is easy enough to get into.

it gives one a perspective on why Russia and former Soviet union states are what they are. it demonstrates where they come from. what it means to be ex Soviet. identity crisis, horrors of the gulag, being just happy with the ex status quo. it is a piece of political science, oral history and literature. it gives an insight, it gives us a chance to understand. but also, makes the foreign very close to us and human.

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Soulful Glimpse of the Soviet Heart !

A phenomenal inside look into transitional effects on Russian citizens as democratic forces moved to the forefront of Soviet and Russian politics. The good, the bad and the ugly told by the people. Svetlana Alexievich writing personifies “Listening is an Act of Love”

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Very depressing.

I would not recommend this book. There is no plot and it was a real struggle to get through it. Artful technique and interviews may be enough for some, but I didn’t enjoy the amorphous nature of this work.

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Heartbreaking

This collection of stories was absolutely heartbreaking and entirely deserving of a Nobel Prize. We get so caught up in our own versions of history and narratives that are particular to our culture that we tend to avoid other experiences. I’ve been studying Russian and Soviet history for years but I’ve never been so moved as I was with this book.

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Outstanding book. Annoying readers.

What would have made Secondhand Time better?

Readers more familiar with Russian language, whose readings would avoid adding inflections, emphases, and emotional colorations. The"acting" being done by the readers distracted from the meaning of the text.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Secondhand Time?

The overall story of the emergence from communism and the post-communist transition into capitalism, as played out in the individual lives of real people.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Too much artificial emoting.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-23-21

Just great!!!

Highly recommended, one of the best listens I had on audible! It will widen you views on the regime, it's peoples and the psychological and sociological impact of it all.