Svetlana Alexievich is a Belarusian — its first citizen to win a Nobel Prize in literature — who writes about Russians in a style she's devised to capture the unheard voices of ordinary people. Is it fiction? No. Investigative journalism? Sort of. Compassionate? You bet.

She travels extensively, interviewing and then transcribing the thoughts of those who normally fall below society's radar. Themes range from reactions to the no-man's-land that followed the downfall of the USSR ("Secondhand Time") to the thoughts of young Army conscripts ("Zinky Boys," named for the zinc coffins in which they were returned to their mothers). Their accounts, little more than a page each, celebrate humanity in all its joy and despair. We're so fortunate to be offered these glimpses.

Carla Waldemar is a reader in Minneapolis.

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