Svetlana Alexievich: I have a different style of documentary. Before, people thought that you cannot really include something intimate or something that is particular to that person. I include everything. I don’t edit what they say. Sometimes people did ask me if they could stay anonymous because they were afraid of the KGB or neighbors that could spy on them or tell on them. They wanted to feel secure and protected. And yes, they would ask me not to say their name.
In one of the stories about Chernobyl, one of the women told a story about her husband. He was dying from cancer. It’s a horrible story. Her husband was at the end of his life, and doctors had no hope for him. There was no pain relief, and he was sent home, and he would scream all day long. The only way his wife could handle it was to give him two liters of vodka a day, or she had to do even more terrible things. They really loved each other, but it was very difficult to live with him. He was a fireman, but he became a monster — the way he was behaving — and he looked very horrible. Even doctors didn’t like visiting him because of that.
One of the things that they were doing — he would clap his hands, and that was his sign, asking her to come to his bed to make love to him. And during that time, he would not scream. But she asked me not to tell that in the stories, because she didn’t want others to think that she is a perverted person. In the first edition, I actually changed her name. But when she read the book, she asked me why. And I told her, “Valentina, you asked me to change your name.” And she said, “No, I suffered. My husband suffered. I don’t want to disappear. I want people to know.”