2018 USC BOOK Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies
The 2018 USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies was awarded to Alexis Peri for The War Within: Diaries from the Siege of Leningrad (Harvard University Press)
Alexis Peri’s The War Within: Diaries of the Siege of Leningrad is a hugely impressive work of scholarship, innovative in several ways. The diaries it discusses are valuable in their own right, bringing new voices and experiences to our understanding of the siege. However, Peri is able to tease out a wealth of other insights from this material, demonstrating the tension between the heroic stories of resistance that the survivors want to tell and those they actually recorded in their diaries. The diarists’ shifting attitudes to family, social hierarchy, historical parallels and more were all illuminating. The dialogue between public and private narratives brings us closer to the subjects, as their narratives of survival illuminate individual minds, personal thoughts, struggles within the self. The War Within succeeds in combining subtle textual analysis with a sense of a variety of wider frameworks conferring sense and resonance upon the specific detail. This is achieved by relating the diaries to contexts such as recent work on Soviet subjectivity, as well as the comparative lens of Holocaust and Gulag narratives, and the paradigm of collective memory, facilitating a nuanced account of the struggle to express (or repress) the reality of the siege.
Alongside its exemplary scholarship, the fine quality of Peri’s writing stood out, and was in turn rooted in the author’s deep engagement with the diary genre. As a result, The War Within vividly evokes a temporally and experientially distant period.