Not only is Secondhand Time full of terribly, grotesque anecdotes about living in a totalitarian regime (for example, one man, assigned to guard a freight car transporting people to Siberia during dekulakization, opened the door to find a "half-starved child eating his own shit as if it was kasha.") but it also contains so much rage and wonderment over the collapse of their Empire. They really did not expect it to happen. It's not like they lost a war or anything. There wasn't even an economic shock. Instead everything somehow fell apart over the course of a few months. And only then did their economy collapse. Gruesome. Makes you realize how fragile a society really is.
I'm listening to Svetlana Alexievich's Secondhand Time, which is a collection of oral histories from people who lived through the fall of the Soviet Union. There are a few interviews here from Soviet dissidents and pro-capitalist folks, but mostly the reactions are from people whose feelings are a lot more mixed. Most of them feel as if something has been lost. Their reactions are on two levels. One, it's a historical fact that life got pretty shitty, on an economic level, after the fall of the Soviet Union. The economy of Russia contracted by something like thirty percent. Standard of living and life expectancy fell.
But more interesting is the second aspect of their reactions, which is the feeling that Russia has lost its way. That it's no longer a great world power, but now just another weak, capitalist nation. These people believed, in some level, in all the communist hype. Maybe they didn't believe in the system as it was currently enacted, but they certainly didn't believe that life in the West was superior. I found myself very interested in it, because I keep thinking about America. Life here is not better, on a material level, than it is in much of the industrialized West (or East, for that matter). In many cases, it's worth. But we feel some sense of our own greatness that would be a very perplexing thing (even for me) to lose.
The audiobook adaptation is amazing! It's a cast of about a dozen, and they do a great job mixing up voices, so it's almost like you're listening to the people themselves. Alexeivich's arrangement is also fantastic. Her work reminds me of Studs Terkel's, but she doesn't shroud herself, as interviewer and editor, as much as he did, and she also intercuts and mixes up the narratives a bit more, so it seems more like a collage than an anthology.
Audiobook is thirty dollars though! Seems excessive. Definitely the kind of thing to spend an Audible credit on (if you have one) rather than putting down real money. Or, even better, get it out from the library =]