Secondhand Time

Secondhand Time

The Last of the Soviets

Book - 2016
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Alexievich charts the decline of Soviet culture and speculates on what will rise from the ashes of communism. Alexievich gives voice to women and men whose stories are lost in the official narratives of nation-states, creating [an] alternative history from the personal and private stories of individuals.
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2016]
Edition: First U.S. edition.
ISBN: 9780399588808
Characteristics: xiv, 470 pages ; 25 cm
Additional Contributors: Shayevich, Bela - Translator


From Library Staff

Alexievich, the Belorussian writer and journalist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015, offers up another profound oral history of ordinary Russians. Nostalgia for life under Soviet Communism runs strong through these interviews with Russians from many walks of life in their kitc... Read More »

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jul 31, 2020

A major downer. All doom and gloom.
An exemplary collection of biased reporting.
Curiously the author provides summaries of her stories in the same book. So there are two ways to read this book. One is to skip the summary chapters (there are two) and spend several miserable days reading her stories. Alternatively, just read the summary chapters and be done with it.
One has to wonder: If everyone was penniless, unable to buy "anything" in a supermarket full of goods, how did the supermarkets survive? Who stocked the markets? And who bought those goods? They are not in this book for sure.

Apr 22, 2017

Interesting accounts of ordinary people from the periods 1991-2001 and 2001-2012 reflecting on the changes brought about by the dissolution of the USSR and the immediate rise of cowboy capitalism.

Mar 12, 2017

Secondhand Time takes an unusual journalistic approach; it is the first-hand accounts of the citizens which shape the emotional impact of the book. Alexievich's narrators tell about who they were, how they believed the world to be ordered, and how they are coping after the fall of the Soviets in 1991, in the decades with Yeltsin and Putin. This is the world of people who believed in an ideal, who ignored brutality for the good of the great Motherland, who suffered deprivation and bowed to it because they BELIEVED, with their Russians souls.

'Russians need something to believe in... Something lofty and luminous. Empire and communism are ingrained in us. We seek out historic ideals.'

Post-Soviet Russia virtually changed overnight. The intelligentsia, highly educated, but working in menial jobs with guaranteed wages suddenly found themselves adrift in a society that valued "the hustle", the competition and not the ordinary guy. No one had much under the Soviets, but it was predictable and they had a kind of loose equality. Suddenly the suffering of the past, the mottos, the youth groups meant nothing.
'We’re always talking about suffering. That’s our path to wisdom. People in the West seem naïve to us because they don’t suffer like we do, they have a remedy for every little pimple. We’re the ones who went to the camps, who piled up the corpses during the war, who dug through the nuclear waste in Chernobyl with our bare hands. We sit atop the ruins of socialism like it’s the aftermath of a war. We’re all run down and defeated. Our language is the language of suffering.'

'...the young who will never understand their parents because they didn’t spend a single day of his life in the Soviet Union – my mother, my son – me…we all live in different countries, even though they’re all Russia.'

The chronology of Russia after Stalin is detailed at the beginning of Secondhand Time; life before Stalin continues to be recalled with mixed memories. The Revolution of 1917 remains a living, vital moment in history to many. Alexievich quotes Alexander Grin, "And the future seems to have stopped standing in its proper place." A hundred years later, she thinks, the future is '...once again, not where it ought to be. Our time comes to us secondhand.'
Thanks to this book, for me Russia has become more than headlines or unintelligible, indistinguishable Caucuses provinces "somewhere over there". It is a country which does not understand democracy. It is a land of people with shocking losses, hopes, ideals, ordinary dreams, big disappointments and a unique mindset. And I'm very glad to have made their acquaintance.

Aug 29, 2016

This is the best book I've read this year -- perhaps in several years. That's not the same as the most beautiful, most magical, or most informative; but it's the most startlingly vast. There are massive, unbelievable accounts of cruelty (personal and gratuitous, as well as vast and industrial-sized); incredibly touching moments of tenderness and love; and the material for dozens of deeply moving plays and movies . . . if anyone could possibly believe the plots. She gives us the poetry and horror of ordinary lives in extraordinary times.

Other Nobel winners -- Saramago, Grass, Llosa, Pamuk -- can take some getting used to; you have to settle in to their style or pace. But any person can get these stories, immediately. And they're searing.

Jul 25, 2016

Powerful, overwhelming, touching.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at CPL

To Top