Secondhand time by Svetlana Alexievich

Secondhand time by Svetlana Alexievich (2015 Nobel Prize in Literature). This book is made from several interviews with Russians in the early 90s when they realized Soviet communism had  been torn down. 

What I find interesting about this book is the unique perspective it offers—the viewpoint of individuals who spent their entire lives in Soviet Russia. For them, the concept of freedom was foreign and unfamiliar. They were accustomed to a government that provided essential necessities such as food, employment, and housing for everyone. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in only a select few with the right mindset becoming extremely wealthy, while the vast majority found themselves struggling in poverty.

Gorbachev’s perestroika left those who identified themselves as true Soviets feeling betrayed. Under socialism, wealth disparity was minimal, and basic needs, like pensions, were provided for the elderly, no one would be on the streets scavenging for bottles and food. However, a year after perestroika, a significant number of people found themselves homeless and struggling to survive.

Promised the opportunity to venture into business, many individuals instead became peddlers, selling goods on a smaller scale. This drastic change in economic conditions forced some former college professors to resort to collecting and selling used cigarette butts, while others would buy these for resale. The contrast between the previous system and the perestroika reality was jarring for those who had believed in the principles of socialism.

The shift to poverty was seen as a source of shame for many, as they had believed that the introduction of the free market would lead to prosperity for all, akin to the perceived affluence in the US or Germany.

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