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Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

(Голоса утопии #5)

4.44  ·  Rating details ·  9,860 ratings  ·  1,464 reviews

From the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Svetlana Alexievich, comes the first English translation of her latest work, an oral history of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia.

Bringing together dozens of voices in her distinctive documentary style, Secondhand Time is a monument to the collapse of the USSR, charting the decli

Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Published May 16th 2016 by Text Publishing (first published August 15th 2013)
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Fernando Escobar In my opinion: No. I'm not an expert in Soviet history, and I really enjoyed this book. There is a small summary of Soviet history a the start of the …moreIn my opinion: No. I'm not an expert in Soviet history, and I really enjoyed this book. There is a small summary of Soviet history a the start of the book (which is helpful), but the true core of the book is human experience and their lives, specially the diversity and complex nature of humanity and history. Such a good book. It does go into detail into Soviet concepts and politicians, etc., the book has wonderful notes if you're interested in them; I usually just read the stories, only seldomly did I look into the notes.(less)
Elizabeth Mattias, I don't think so. I didn't read all her books, but as far as I see each one focuses on different point in history. But each book has many men…moreMattias, I don't think so. I didn't read all her books, but as far as I see each one focuses on different point in history. But each book has many mentions of other historical events as they all affect the lives of people. For some it may make sense to read them in chronological order. But each book is a collection of stories within itself. So far I didn't see any directly inter-connected stories between the books.(less)

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Apr 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russia, reviewed, 2016, history
There are some who are in darkness
And the others are in light
And you see the ones in brightness
Those in darkness drop from sight.

Bertold Brecht, The Threepenny Opera


Last year I read Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History, in which Orlando Figes outlines the history of the Soviet Union as ‘a hundred-year cycle of violence in pursuit of utopian dreams’ - a fluently written, very concise synthesis , predominantly political and narrative in structure. Having finished the book, Figes’s inappropri
May 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"We sit atop the ruins of socialism like it's the aftermath of war."


One of the best books I've ever read. THE most personally touching and relevant book I've EVER read. A book that penetrates the soul of my being and explains me to myself.

An Autobiographical Review
this book is my autobiography, and it speaks my heart better than I ever have articulated it myself; many details below are personal, but they are also in the book, and what the book is about.
"Communism had an in
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The book "Secondhand-Zeit" was written by Svetlana Alexiewitsch in 2013. She reports on life after the Cold War in Russia. The Country is in a phase in which the Country has to find itself again.

Svetlana Alexiewitsch (Nobel Prize Laureate) İnterviewed people from different Social strata of the Nomenklatura, as well as numerous citizens of the former Soviet Union of different age groups, between the Years 1992 and 2012.

The emancipated improvement in life conditions did not simply occur.

Jul 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“No one had taught us how to be free. We had only ever been taught how to die for freedom.”

Imagine that everything you believe in is suddenly thrown into question and the system you live in is turned upside down. How would you perceive the old system and how would you adapt to the new one?

UdSSR 1922-1991

This happened to the Russians, living in the former Soviet Union. They were born into a Communist regime with terror and imprisonments. But in 1991 that entire structure vanished and the natio
Oct 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant book about modern Russian history. The author interviewed dozens of Russian citizens and documented their stories about life in the Soviet Union, and how life has been since it fell. There is a helpful timeline at the front of the book, detailing events after Stalin's death in 1953, up to the rise of Putin and to armed conflicts in the Ukraine in 2014.

I started reading this late last summer, before we knew that Russia had interfered with America's presidential election. Even
I was eleven or perhaps twelve years old when I learned that ignorance is no excuse for anything.

That revelation completely changed the way I viewed the world. I ran to my parents, separately, I remember, my eyes wide. I said to each of them, “Ignorance is no excuse!” It won’t save anyone from the repercussions of whatever they are ignorant of. You can die as a result of ignorance or you can participate in something evil as a result of ignorance.

As I remember it, my parents did not say anything
Oct 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
“There were new rules: if you have money you count- no money you are nothing. Who cares if you have read all Hegel?”

I made a rule one day that every time, whenever I get time to visit any book fair, I’ll purchase at least one non-fiction and that non-fiction must fulfill three criteria. First, its cover should be extremely charming, second, it should be bulky, and third, it must be historical. A world book fair was organized in my city last month, I rigorously followed the rule and the book t
Diane S ☔
Jul 30, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 I spent the last month reading this, not because it didn't interest me, it did, but because of the format. Interviews with those who live in Russia from Stalin to I believe 2012. Was just too much for me to read in one sitting, so I read a few each night before bed. A very worthy book, important to hear from those who actually lived thought these times. Some of this was brutal, the gulags, Siberia, the fear but many also missed the days of Communism, missed life under Stalin, saw him as a he ...more
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Way back in the early 90s, I remember my parents entertaining some young Russians, who were work colleagues of my maths professor father. I remember being quite struck by how little respect they had for Mikhail Gorbachev, who was still being hailed as a visionary leader in the West. This monumental book goes some way to explaining these feelings, along with many other aspects of life in the former Soviet Union, both before and in the 20 years after the fall of the Communist regime.

Alexievich is
May 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Wind of Change
"I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change."
Scorpions, Wind of Change, 1990.

Before giving my brief thoughts, a HUGE thanks to goodreads friend Ioana, a native Romanian now in the U.S., whose review is must read. She's a brilliant writer who lived under Communist rule and terror of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Her review is the best I've read on Goodreads for any book; a pure concerto of the personally poetic and the pellucidly profound [Ioana's review]. After readi
May 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: russian-history
3.5 Stars,

Svetlána Alexándrovna Alexiévich is a Belarusian investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer who writes in Russian. She was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature

Seconhand time: The Last of the Soviets traces the emotional history of the Soviet and post-Soviet individual through carefully constructed collages of interviews. Svetlana Alexievich weaves a rich catholog of Russian voices telling their stories of Worshipped Russian leaders, of love and death, hard and sad time
"I am where the clever guys are,
Where the posters say "Forward!"
Where the working country is singing
Its new workers' songs.

My heart is worried, my heart is troubled,
The postal cargo is being packed
My address is not a house or a street,
My address is the Soviet Union"

-Samotsvety, My address is the Soviet Union (1972)

In 2015, Svetlana Alexievich has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. This is remarkable for several reasons - Alexievich is not only one of the few women to ever win the
This is such a quotable book. Not because of anti-communist rhetoric, or -propaganda, since the book was originally written in Russian for a widely diverse Russian population. Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets is an honest internal dialogue that is taking place, once again, in the kitchens where people gathered to eat, drink, talk, and sleep on the large masonry stoves. Their only little patch of freedom.

Through a journalist, touring the country for several years, conversations are broug
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
So yeah, this is as good as everyone says. If you're putting off reading it (because it's long/depressing/you're waiting for the perfect mood to magically descend on you), don't.
Britta Böhler
If you are interested in modern day Russia & if you want to understand the country: read this book! ...more
Lisa Lieberman
Jan 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I’m reading this oral history of the Soviet era through the lens of the present moment. How could I not? The voices of Svetlana Alexievich’s subjects blend with the voices I hear on the news. You’ve got the revolutionaries, fierce believers in the rightness of their cause. Some are idealists, others admit to less pure motives.
Our era—my era—was a great era! It was a great time! We will never live in such a big and strong country again.

For us, mercy was a priest’s word. Kill the White vermin! Mak
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: soviet, russia, belarus
There's an old saying (well, it's starting to sound old) that if the 19th century with its optimism and progress ended in 1914, then the 20th century of dictatorships and great wars ended in 1989. The wall fell, the oppressed cut symbols from their flags, the experiment was declared a failure and we started over. Everyone (well, every European, which is what counts) was free and could live as they always wanted, with democracy and justice for all.

No one had taught us what freedom means. We'd onl
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[3.5] Secondhand Time is an epic study of the aftermath of the Soviet Union through the words of everyday citizens. It is exhaustive and exhausting. After a couple hundred pages, the voices merged together into a chorus of dissatisfaction and I felt smothered by sadness. I was surprised at how many Russians lamented the loss of idealism - replaced by a culture of consumerism. As one man said "A Mercedes is no dream." Well worth reading but I recommend approaching in small chunks.
After finishing "Secondhand Time, The Last of the Soviets", I realized that I am an ignoramus, a lazy news minder, generally a casual observer of headlines containing "Russia", Soviet, etc.. The silence of the Iron Curtain, of my era, has left a wall of uncomprehending disinterest and perhaps even some distaste, with its butcher Stalin, its KGB, its political prisoners and lack of freedoms. As a Westerner, I celebrated Czechoslovakia's independence and idly listened while other countries in the ...more
Guy Austin
Can you add more than Five Stars?

This is a book that completely hits every interest I hold dear. It is a historical memoir of many voices from within the former USSR.

Imagine if one day you woke up and the United States was no more. In its place was several countries suddenly "freed" to be as they want without any support of government. Every political and social fragment of society allowed to grab for the voice of the new republics. What would happen? The Confederate States come together? New E
Michael Perkins
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Svetlana Alexievich, a non-fiction author, is the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time." This is fitting, as her model is Dostoevsky, the creator of the polyphonic novel. "If I hadn’t read Dostoevsky, I would be in despair," she says.

About her approach to creating her books, she writes....

"It’s important to catch words in flight, as they’re born. It’s important not to miss the conversational part of life, whic
Dec 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this masterpiece just before a far-right government took over my country for five years, with help from the vast majority of the press. See you in 2024.
How do you understand the Russian soul? By reading the trigenerational canon of Gogol, Tolstoj and Dostojevski ? Rather the literary revolutionaries such as Gorki or Tsjernysjevski's and Lenin's take on the question "What is to be done?" Perhaps Soviet mainstays such as Boris Polevoj's Bible of the future Afghantsy or that of the kitchen rebels ?


Or put on some tunes.

Perhaps Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets strikes closer to home. The main theme goes easy on the ear: "we wanted something
The 2015 Nobel Prize winner pieces together a sweeping oral history of post-Soviet life. The subjects she interviews range from ages 14 to 87. However, a few common themes emerge from their testimonies: marveling at the naïveté of their assumption that a regime change would improve life; the shame of poverty; disillusionment with Russia’s leadership; the lure of American culture; and so on. This is a weighty book in terms of both length and subject matter. It is worthy of a slow read over some w ...more
ETA: it takes a while to get into this book. Don't judge it too quickly. The longer interviews are more interesting and it takes a while until you get to them.


I definitely recommend reading this book. I think it has a few shortcomings but it is still well worth your time. It is an important book; it captures Russian history through the voices of the people who lived through Stalin’s terror, the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. and the first decade and a half of the 21
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, history, family
On this awful inauguration day, many Americans are weeping; others are laughing hysterically. I'm still in shock. Last night, instead of distracting myself with Seinfeld or spending time with my friends, I read the final pages of Svetlana Alexievich's harrowing Secondhand Time.

Trump claims to represent the "voice of the people," but he controls it, co-opts it. But Alexievich guides the voices, lets the people speak for themselves. She lets the people, angry, frustrated, marginalized, disconcert
Jan 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Since the 1990s, the practice of Truth Commissions has regularly surfaced, following the South African example. This book by Svetlana Aleksijevich is such a truth commission in itself, in this case for the former Soviet Union. But it's so much more.

It has already been extensively described elsewhere: it is the polyphony and multiformity that is so impressive in this book. They are testimonies of people of all stature and rank: older generations who have experienced the first years of the Soviet
Marianna Neal
8 out of 10

Another powerful oral history put together by Alexievich! Her books are guaranteed to break your heart over and over again. This particular one seems a bit skewed towards USSR life and values nostalgia—I would have preferred more balance within the PoVs to really illustrate generational differences. Still, that doesn't take away from the impact of every broken life story included in this book.
Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"The story is too terrifying and beautiful to believe... I realized that they didn't believe me... Do you believe me?"
"I believe you..." I tell her. "I grew up in the same country as you. I believe you!" [And both of us cry.]
- Part II; On Romeo and Juliet... Except Their Names Were Margarita and Abulfaz

In Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, develops a complex and powerful narrative of life in the USSR prior to and post collapse. Through the compil
"Do you really think this country fell apart because people learned the truth about the gulag? That's what people who write books think. People... Regular people don't care about history, they're concerned with simpler things: falling in love, getting married, having kids. Our country fell apart from a deficit of women's boots and toilet paper, because there were no oranges... no goddamn blue jeans."

▫️From SECONDHAND TIME by Svetlana Alexievich, translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich / 20
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Svetlana Alexievich was born in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, in 1948 and has spent most of her life in the Soviet Union and present-day Belarus, with prolonged periods of exile in Western Europe. Starting out as a journalist, she developed her own distinctive nonfiction genre, which gathers a chorus of voices to describe a specific historical moment. Her works include War’s Unwomanly Face (1985), Las ...more

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