Do you read Nobel Laureates’ speeches? It’s not a bad idea to read or listen to Laureates in Literature, if you want to be what is called a serious writer. Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel Lecture wakes you up, at least for a while, a dim moment of sunlight peering into a cold room. It is such a relief to know that such people exist and write.
Alexievich pays a lot of attention to the voice as she writes with her ear. She listens to women who have lost their husbands,brother and children pour out their grief. She listens to the voices at Chernobyl and Afghanistan.
What I remember most, is that women talked about love, not death. They would tell stories about saying goodbye to the men they loved the day before they went to war, they would talk about waiting for them, and how they were still waiting. Years had passed, but they continued to wait: “I don’t care if he lost his arms and legs, I’ll carry him.” No arms … no legs … I think I’ve known what love is since childhood …
She weaves stories out of what people say, and though she has seen too much of the undesirable, she has also witnessed the sublime. Read this to understand how important empathy is to be able to write.
Alaa Al Aswany, an Egyptian writer, talks about his favorite passage of a book in a feature entitled How Literature Inspires Empathy @ the By Heart series in The Atlantic. He chooses a single line from Dostoevsky’s book The House of the Dead:
He, also, had a mother.
The ‘also’ signifies a great deal and is the root of empathy that makes Dostoevsky a great writer. Aswany explains how writing can not be about intolerance in any form. Just as Svetlana absorbs the world around her, assuming nothing, taking in all stories of grief like a giant sponge, Aswany believes that a writer has to write about the world as it is.
Literature gives us a broad spectrum of human possibilities. It teaches us how to feel other people suffering. When you read a good novel, you forget about the nationality of the character. You forget about his or her religion. You forget about his skin color or her skin color. You only understand the human. You understand that this is a human being, the same way we are. And so reading great novels absolutely can remake us as much better human beings.
A novel is a living thing; the reader must feel what the author feels and become better for it.