Время секонд хэнд (Second Hand Time) by Светлана Алексиевич

This is a must read for intermediate and higher learners of Russian, by the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature., Svetlana Alexievitch of Belarus.

The English and German versions are not yet out. It was sold out at the FNAC in Paris, so I downloaded the French ebook from Amazon.fr and started reading it on my Kindle on my flight home from Europe a few days ago.

Stunning and moving account of the contradictions of life in the post-Soviet world. Once home I searched the Internet and found ebook at this great site .

I converted the epub file into a text file using Calibre and imported the whole book into LingQ and am now reading it on LingQ. The book consists mostly of interviews and is therefore not difficult reading for an intermediate level Russian learner. I heartily recommend this book, not only as a language learning medium, but for the value of the book.


Very useful información, Steve.

I have to ask Steve, with that many LingQs that you’ve saved and learned, how much are you able to understand in Russian?

If you are asking me how many of my yellow LingQed words do I understand when I read them in a text, I don’t know but will try to keep track when I next read.

On the other hand I can say that material that I previously had trouble understanding, when reading or listening, I now mostly understand.

Oops. I momentarily forgot that Russia and others use the comma for a decimal point and got a shock when I converted 179000 rubles to dollars. 8^O It’s quite reasonable for an ebook when converted properly.

Thanks for the link, Steve. I’d taken note of this when the Nobel Prize was announced but hadn’t got around to finding it.

Roughly as follows.

Of my status 4 words, (underlined) I essentially know them all and have not bothered previously moving them to Known. I occasionally move them to known while reading but this slows down my reading.

Of the Yellow LingQs, I guess I really understand about 50% of them, more or less know the meaning of another 20-25% and really don’t know about 25%. I tend to check on the meaning of words that I am not completely comfortable with. I sometimes move the status along, but not always as it slows down my reading.

Of the Blue words, I know about 30-40%, perhaps 10-15% are names, and around 50% I need to look up and convert to yellow words. Many of these newly created LingQs, depending on how often they appear again, will be in the 25% of yellow words that I don’t really know when I see them again.

Very roughly with wild fluctuations within a text and from text to text.

2.30€, more than reasonable. Just bought it!

Here is her acceptance speech in Stockholm.


I fully agree with Steve. I read the book in German two years ago (I guess with “English and German versions are not yet out” you mean the paperback edition?) and found it indeed fascinating. The book gives great insights into the life and feelings of the generation born and raised during the Soviet era.

I meant only that when I googled to find the book one of the sites seemed to suggest that neither and English or German version were available, while a French one was. I guess that was not so. In any case, the book is fascinating.

Thanks. Very much look forward to reading this. But what a variation in quality amongst the books on that site!

Well, it’s an online bookshop. You could say the same about Amazon, for example.

I may grab a copy of “Мастер и Маргарита” from there (0.66€)

Also available as an audiobook:

The more I read of the book, the more it seems that this journalistic literary style which seeks to capture the atmosphere of citizens of the former USSR recovering from post-Soviet trauma is a little slanted towards extremes of despair, sadness or anger. It is a little like the fable about the blind men and the elephant. This kind of portrait based on interviews is almost by definition a distortion, although granted Russia in the 90s, with the collapse of a way of life, the economy and inter-ethnic strife was a stressful place. I would like to see some interviews with happy normal people. I presume they also exist.

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Let us know about such happy exception.

She is a very interesting writer, but a lot of people in Russia don’t like her because she is very one-sided. And her assesment of the Soviet/Russian life is often very biassed and partial.
Her techniques are good, but a bit monotonous, especially if you read not one but several her works.
That’s why many Russian writers and journalists think that she received the Nobel Price first of all because of the political reasons for strong ctitics of Russia and Russians.

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How about you Serguey? Alexievitch is from your neck of the woods. Let her interview you with all your interests and your genuine good nature towards your fellow human beings from whichever corner of the world they come.

I am reminded of the excellent German film Good Bye Lenin! (2003) (Good Bye Lenin! (2003) - IMDb) which concerns the fall of the wall and communism from an East German perspective. Though that movie is not nearly as morose as is this book (having read most of the first chapter “Из уличного шума и разговоров на кухне (1991—2001)”).

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Do you know of anyone who kept diaries from that period? Diariesare often better historical sources than later interviews, which are influnced by the intervening years. Unfortunately, diaries all too often sit in a box until children or grandchildren discover them.

I agree that she seems to dwell on the morbid and morose.

I also have trouble understanding the reasons for many of the Nobel prize awards. Especially this one, since her works is more a matter or journalism than literature. These are not her own words, but the words of others.

On the other hand, she defends her art form, that of listener, in her acceptance speech. It is also true that much of art focuses on extremes in order to describe the every day.

I think the best part of the book is the earlier part, where she describes people who suffered tremendously under Stalin and still worship him. I think that this book does help us to understand at least a part of modern Russian psychology, that part which is nostalgic for the USSR and Stalin or another strong leader. I think it is important to temper this impression with contact with ordinary Russians who don’t appear to be fighting all these demons.