"I'm searching life for observations, nuances, details.
my interest in life is not the event as such, not war as
such, not Chernobyl as such, not suicide as such. What I
am interested in is what happens to the human being, what
happens to it in of our time. How does man behave and react.
How much of the biological man is in him, how much of the
man of his time, how much man of the man."
A SEARCH FOR ETERNAL MAN
In lieu of biography
I've been searching for a genre that would be most adequate
to my vision of the world to convey how my ear hears and
my eyes see life.I tried this and that and finally I chose a genre where human
voices speak for themselves. Real people speak in my books
about the main events of the age such as the war, the Chernobyl
disaster, and the downfall of a great empire. Together they
record verbally the history of the country, their common history,
while each person puts into words the story of his/her own
life. Today when man and the world have become so multifaceted
and diversified the document in art is becoming increasingly
interesting while art as such often proves impotent. The document
brings us closer to reality as it captures and preserves the
originals. After 20 years of work with documentary material
and having written five books on their basis I declare that
art has failed to understand many things about people.
But I don't just record a dry history of events and facts,
I'm writing a history of human feelings. What people thought,
understood and remembered during the event. What they believed
in or mistrusted, what illusions, hopes and fears they experienced.
This is impossible to imagine or invent, at any rate in such
multitude of real details. We quickly forget what we were
like ten or twenty or fifty years ago. Sometimes we are ashamed
of our past and refuse to believe in what happened to us in
actual fact. Art may lie but document never does. Although
the document is also a product of someone's will and passion.
I compose my books out of thousands of voices, destinies,
fragments of our life and being. It took me three-four years
to write each of my books. I meet and record my conversations
with 500-700 persons for each book. My chronicle embraces
several generations. It starts with the memories of people
who witnessed the 1917 Revolution, through the wars and Stalinist
gulags, and reaches the present times. This is a story of
one Soviet-Russian soul.
My first book is The Unwomanly Face of the War.
More than a million Soviet women saw action at the frontlines
of the Second World War. They were aged from fifteen to thirty
years. They mastered the various military professions becoming
pilots, tank drivers, machine-gunners, snipers, and many others.
They were not only nurses and doctors as in the previous wars.
However after the victory men forgot about those women. Men
stole the victory from the women.
In my book the women soldiers talk about those aspects of
the war, which men never mentioned. We did not know about
such a war. Men described their exploits while women talked
about something else. For example, how frightening it was
to walk along a field covered with dead bodies, scattered
about like potatoes, all very young. You feel sorry for all
of them, both the Russian and the Germans.
After the war, women had to fight another war. They concealed
their military IDs and certificates of wounds because they
wanted to get married.
My second book is The Last Witnesses: the Book of Unchildlike
These are war reminiscences of those who were only seven to
twelve years old. The war is described through innocent children's
eyes. Dostoyevsky once said that the common good is not worth
anything if it is obtained at the cost of one child's tear.
The third book is Boys in Zinc
It is about the ten-year Soviet-Afghan war. It comprises stories
by more than a hundred officers and soldiers taking part in
this incomprehensible war, as well as widows and mothers of
war victims. We learn how the two worlds - East and West -
clashed in a cruel and hopeless duel. What kind of war it
was, what people were thinking about then, how they killed
one another, how they desperately strived to survive. "Even
time was passing differently there, the calendar itself was
different: it was almost 200 years back in time." This
is what I heard again and again in many stories.
You read this book as if it were written not then but now,
as if it were written for us, who have witnessed the 9/11
tragedy when the world changed radically within one day. It
moved backwards instead of moving forward, towards the armed
man rather than the unarmed man. One of the characters says
in the end: "Those who were there will not want to fight
again. You ought to fight ideas rather than people. Kill the
ideas, which make our world so inhospitable and frightening,
and leave people alone."
This is what's on the mind of every person today.
The Chernobyl Prayer: Chronicles of the Future
After the Chernobyl disaster we are living in a different
world. In fact two catastrophes happened at almost the same
time - one of cosmic dimension in Chernobyl and the social
catastrophe when the huge socialist mainland went under. The
second crash overshadowed the first one because it was of
more immediate concern to us and more understandable. What
happened in Chernobyl was the first such catastrophe and we
are the first to experience it. We are now living with it,
something is happening to us: the blood formula and the genetic
codes change, familiar landscapes disappear. But to fully
comprehend what is happening we would need different human
experience and a different inner instrument, which does not
exist yet. Our vision and nose do not yet sense the new enemy,
one that is coming from the future - radiation. Even our words
and feelings are not adjusted to what had happened and our
whole experience of suffering, underlying our history, is
of little use to us now. Our measure of horror is the same
- war. Our consciousness does not move deeper than that, it
stands still at the threshold. What happened in Chernobyl
is much worse than the gulags and the Holocaust.
It is hard to defend ourselves from the unknown, from what
is yet unfamiliar to the humankind. Chernobyl changed our
relationship with time. The words "forever" and
"never" filled with a different meaning and assumed
material form. All our previous notions about large and small
catastrophes turned out to be insufficient - man peered into
the chasm of the cosmos. We were deprived of immortality at
once. Time stopped still on the dead territory and became
what it is has always been - eternity.
Some day, our days, the Chernobyl days, will become a myth.
New generations will be looking back at us and wonder how
it all happened, what sort of people lived then, what they
felt and thought, how they related it all and what they remembered.
Man and event - could they be equal? Events related by one
person make up his/her own life, but events related by many
people make up history.
The history of Chernobyl is still being written. This is a
riddle for the 21st century and a challenge to it.
The Wonderful Deer of the Eternal Hunt.
The author's commentary to the story of these stories.
What will the reader find in this book? That everything turns
into memories. That each life is interesting in its own way.
That without death you can't understand life. That love plunges
us into the depths of our own selves. That human beings are
neither saints nor satans but somewhere in between. That our
knowledge is powerless. That in love people look for the same
things as in war and crime. That each one of us conceals both
men and women. That we live among shadows, among the impossible
and the unrealized. That in love you may disappear as in death.
That the real life and death of the body is inaccessible to
us. That Christ was also a man. That you can die from love
during the war. That everyone may recall what he/she would
like to conceal. That all creatures in this world love one
another - flowers, trees, butterflies, worms, birds. That
no modern technology can free us from the need to love, feel
and suffer. That we cannot get used to the thought that everything
for us is limited by the duration of our life. That there
are men who realize how interesting it is to be a woman. That
the time in love which flows differently from the ordinary
time of our lives. That people yearn for immortality. That
human mysteries are fragile and merciless. That pain is an
art. That our little death is very near. That everything Russian
is filled with sorrow.
The book includes a hundred male and female stories about
people's desire and failure to find happiness.