Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich spoke in Dublin on Wednesday evening in her first-ever public appearance in Western Europe. Speaking in front of a packed house at Trinity College, Alexievich talked about her groundbreaking career charting the lives of ordinary people in the Soviet Union and its aftermath. And while Alexievich received a rapturous reception in Dublin (many in the audience were from Eastern Europe), at home her criticism of Vladimir Putin and Russia's actions in Ukraine have lost her friends and earned her criticism. Even though there is a grand Russian literary tradition of being in conflict with authority, some people in Russia regard her as a traitor and that the Nobel Prize was "my reward for betrayal."
Alexievich's appearance in Dublin was something of a coup for the International Literature Festival Dublin, and it only came about because of her long-time friend Adi Roche, the founder of the Irish charity Chernobyl Children International. Roche (no stranger to speaking to a large crowd) was visibly moved by Wednesday's event, telling me "I salute Svetlana for her bravery, for her tenacity, for being a lone voice in the midst of insanity where she comes from. Her truth-telling has cost her dearly. It has cost her family, her friends, herself personally, and yet she continues to be that calm voice of reason, of sanity, of philosophy, of vision... She's a bit like Gorbachev: hailed in the West, and in the East seen almost as the Devil Incarnate."
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