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Secondhand Time summary

Svetlana Alexievich

The Last of the Soviets

4.2 (71 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

"Secondhand Time" by Svetlana Alexievich is a collection of interviews with people across the former Soviet Union, reflecting on the collapse of communism. It offers a nuanced and deeply personal exploration of the impact of this historical event on individuals and society.

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    Secondhand Time
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    Perestroika brought monumental changes to Soviet Russia.

    On August 19, 1991 something extraordinary occurred in Moscow. A group known as the General Committee on the State Emergency (GKChP) staged a coup while the president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, was on vacation in Crimea. The coup, however, failed. In response, thousands of Muscovites poured onto the streets to protest, setting up barricades to halt the army tanks commanded by the GKChP.

    Soon enough the soldiers sided with the protesters, and the GKChP backed down. Gorbachev had them arrested, including his own vice president. Just days later, on August 24, Gorbachev dissolved the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This, in effect, dismantled the Communist Party itself. The Soviet era was brought to a close.

    But it didn’t all happen in a flash. The dissolution effectively represented the culmination of what was known as perestroika, a period of unprecedented reform in Russia.

    Let’s step back a bit. Perestroika had begun around 1985. Gorbachev had triggered reforms, releasing political prisoners as well as loosening restrictions on freedom of the press and speech.

    Just imagine: in a vibrant city like Moscow, it must have felt like the clouds were lifting. Banned books were finally published. It seemed like the dawn of a new humane socialism. In this spirit, the atrocities of the Soviet prison camps were also revealed.

    But Russia is big, and it certainly wasn’t just made up of Muscovite city slickers. Most people lived in villages and held their Communist values close to heart.

    But neither side of the divide, no matter their opinions on perestroika, could have predicted what happened after the coup and the dissolution of the Communist Party.

    Instead of evolving into a humane socialism, the country veered headfirst and unprepared into a quite different world: capitalism.

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    What is Secondhand Time about?

    These blinks give some revolutionary insights into an epoch-making time in Russia’s history. The author presents an oral history of Russia’s transition from Stalinism to capitalism in which she lets people who were there tell their stories. In Secondhand Time (2016), her witnesses tell us what it means to be Russian, then and now. All of them lived through this transitional period, but some did not survive.

    Secondhand Time Review

    Secondhand Time (2013) by Svetlana Alexievich is a powerful exploration of life in post-Soviet Russia. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • With its collection of personal stories and interviews, it offers a raw and intimate look into the lives of ordinary people, capturing the essence of a nation in transition.
    • The author's meticulous research and masterful storytelling skillfully weave together the narratives, creating a compelling and thought-provoking account of history and identity.
    • Through its honest and unvarnished portrayal, the book challenges and disrupts conventional narratives, providing a fresh perspective on Russia's complex past and present.

    Who should read Secondhand Time?

    • Cultural historians
    • People who want to know more about Russia and the Cold War
    • Readers curious about the Russian reaction to capitalism

    About the Author

    Svetlana Alexievich is a Nobel Prize-winning author. She worked as a journalist before she started compiling her unique and exciting oral histories. She gives voice to people who lived through tumultuous times. Her other works include Voices from Chernobyl and The Last Witnesses.

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    Secondhand Time FAQs 

    What is the main message of Secondhand Time?

    The main message of Secondhand Time is a reflection on the experiences and emotions of ordinary people living through the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    How long does it take to read Secondhand Time?

    The reading time for Secondhand Time varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Secondhand Time a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Secondhand Time is a moving and thought-provoking book that delves into the lived experiences of individuals during a significant historical period. It is definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Secondhand Time?

    The author of Secondhand Time is Svetlana Alexievich.

    What to read after Secondhand Time?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Secondhand Time, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
    • The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
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