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Last Witnesses  By  cover art

Last Witnesses

By: Svetlana Alexievich,Richard Pevear,Larissa Volokhonsky
Narrated by: Julia Emelin,Allen Lewis Rickman
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Publisher's Summary

"A masterpiece" (The Guardian) from the Nobel Prize-winning writer, an oral history of children’s experiences in World War II across Russia

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post

For more than three decades, Svetlana Alexievich has been the memory and conscience of the 20th century. When the Swedish Academy awarded her the Nobel Prize, it cited her for inventing "a new kind of literary genre," describing her work as "a history of emotions...a history of the soul."

Bringing together dozens of voices in her distinctive style, Last Witnesses is Alexievich’s collection of the memories of those who were children during World War II. They had sometimes been soldiers as well as witnesses, and their generation grew up with the trauma of the war deeply embedded - a trauma that would change the course of the Russian nation.

Collectively, this symphony of children’s stories, filled with the everyday details of life in combat, reveals an altogether unprecedented view of the war. Alexievich gives voice to those whose memories have been lost in the official narratives, uncovering a powerful, hidden history from the personal and private experiences of individuals.

Translated by the renowned Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, Last Witnesses is a powerful and poignant account of the central conflict of the 20th century, a kaleidoscopic portrait of the human side of war.

Praise for Last Witnesses

"There is a special sort of clear-eyed humility to [Alexievich’s] reporting." (The Guardian)

"A bracing reminder of the enduring power of the written word to testify to pain like no other medium.... Children survive, they grow up, and they do not forget. They are the first and last witnesses." (The New Republic)

"A profound triumph." (The Big Issue)

"[Alexievich] excavates and briefly gives prominence to demolished lives and eradicated communities.... It is impossible not to turn the page, impossible not to wonder whom we next might meet, impossible not to think differently about children caught in conflict." (The Washington Post)

©2019 Svetlana Alexievich (P)2019 Random House Audio

What listeners say about Last Witnesses

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Amazing story, full of emotion and history

I love this audio book, more than I could have ever imagined. So many things I never thought about from war - how children view what happens, the fact that no one has a papa anymore. I loved the stories about children getting new mama's and papa's because theirs had died and people wanted to care for them. Even stories of orphanages that had the kindest workers and afforded children a happy life that they thought couldn't exist anymore. Some stories had happy endings, many did not - but I loved that too in a sad and sincere way. I cried so much from this book, learned a lot, and feel a new sense of appreciation for bread.

7 people found this helpful

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And how many years to forget?

"I remember the war in order to figure it out…Otherwise why do it?"
- Nadia Gorbacheva, age 7

"My childhood ended…with the first gunshots. A child still lived inside me, but now alongside someone else…"
- Efim Friedland, age 9

"There was shooting for four years…And how many years to forget?"
- Katya Zayats, age 12

"We are the last witnesses. Our time is ending. We must speak… Our words will be the last…"
- Valya Brinskaya, age 12

In The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II, Svetlana Alexievich looked at WW2 through the eyes of the women who survived/fought in/lived through it. Using the same polyphonic, oral history, vignette approach Alexievich tells the story (mostly in Belarus) of the children who survived/lived through/(and yes) fought in it.

The insights are sad, horrible, and also revealing and brutal in their horror and beauty. There is absolutely the WORST of humanity witnessed by these children and told in their retirement years to a historian, but beside those stories, imbedded in these remembrances of war a flower occasionally blooms that reminds the reader of both the dark and the light we float between. There are communities pulling together, mothers doing extraordinary things for their children, mothers created out of need, neighbors helping neighbors, sacrifices made by children to carry the burdens of others. I cried multiple times. I had to consume it slowly. It was amazing history. Too often we are fed the strategies and the geopolitical players in war, but Alexievich inverts that. She is granular. She feeds the reader the reality of war, as experienced and remembered, by the most vulnerable. We need more mothers. We need less war.

4 people found this helpful

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Simply Horrifying

To listen to Svetlana Alexievich's beautiful work is to be stunned into speechlessness. The stories of Russian children who survived WWII in the form of an oral history is just too much to take in. One theme that resounds is how these children we're so traumatized that they simply were incapable of emotion. One never tires of these stores because they NEED to be told over and over again. As our world makes moves toward totalitarianism, one needs to hear the stories of those who lived through it. How any of these children survived starvation, watching their parents and others being killed in front of them in the most brutal ways, and other atrocities defies all logic. May were orphaned and left to their own devices. It's incredible. What a breathtaking work.

The dual narration works here beautifully. Julia Emelin and Allen Lewis Rickman's narration is perfection.

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superb

I learned so much and heard such horrendous stories that affected the lives of those children that I will never forget. I highly recommend this recording.

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Great story but...

The performance is unbearable. No need for accents and theatrics, just let the story speak for itself.

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Breathtaking in beauty and heartache.

Voices marvelous. Stories otherworldly. SA coaxes deep confessions from buried corners of the soul. These old ones carry stories we all must hear. May we not have to reenact them.

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Deep history, questionable execution

I wish the narrators didn’t try to mimic Russian accents, pretty cringe. Great stories as always.