The People’s Historian of the Former Soviet Union

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Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature for her haunting oral histories of the Chernobyl disaster and the Soviet War in Afghanistan. Her latest book, “Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets,” collects interviews with Russian-speaking men and women about the country’s transition from communism to capitalism. Alexievich links the difficulties of that political shift with the rise of Vladimir Putin. While she is opposed to the Russian leader’s authoritarian policies, she warns against demonizing him. Alexievich says he embodies the Russian population’s desire for purpose after the fall of U.S.S.R. Alexievich spoke with David Remnick about the intimate consequences of the Soviet Union’s demise.