Last Witnesses by Svetlana Alexievich review the astonishing achievement of the Nobel prize winner

From Chernobyl to the experience of children during the second world war … Alexievich has produced her own remarkable version of Soviet history In 1993, two years after Svetlana Alexievich published Boys in Zinc, her oral history of Russias war in Afghanistan, she was sued by a number of the people she had interviewed. They accused her of offending their honour and dignity and of portraying their soldier sons as soulless killer-robots, pillagers, drug addicts and racists. Though the case was in part thrown out, it said much about the fickleness of memory and the way that the rawness of grief conveyed to Alexievich during the interviews had quickly been overlaid by a more bearable narrative, in which the war …