Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich has won the Nobel Prizein literature for works that the prize judges called "a monument to suffering and courage".
Alexievich, 67, used the skills of a journalist to create literature chronicling the great tragedies of the Soviet Union and its collapse: the Second World War, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the suicides that ensued from the death of Communism.
Her first novel, The Unwomanly Face Of The War, published in 1985 and based on the previously untold stories of women who had fought against the Nazi Germans, sold more than two million copies.
Her books have been published in 19 countries. She has also written three plays and the screenplays for 21 documentary films.
The Swedish Academy cited Alexievich "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time".
The academy's permanent secretary, Sara Danius, told Swedish broadcaster SVT that she reached the writer just before the announcement.
"She said one word: 'Fantastic!'" Danius said.
She praised Alexievich as a great and innovative writer.
"She transcends the format of journalism and has developed a new literary genre that bears her trademark," Danius said.
The daughter of two village schoolteachers, Alexievich studied journalism in Belarus, which at the time was part of the Soviet Union.
She now lives in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, and like many intellectuals supports the political opponents of authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko, who is up for re-election on Sunday.
Speaking by phone to SVT, Alexievich said winning the Nobel Prize in literature left her with a "complicated" feeling.
"It immediately evokes such great names as (Ivan) Bunin, (Boris) Pasternak," she said, referring to other Russian writers who have won the prize. "On the one hand it's such a fantastic feeling, but it's also a bit disturbing."
She said she was at home "doing chores, I was doing the ironing" when the academy called her.
Asked what she was going to do with the eight million Swedish kronor (£633,000) prize money, she said: "I do only one thing: I buy freedom for myself. It takes me a long time to write my books, from five to 10 years.
"I have two ideas for new books so I'm pleased that I will now have the freedom to work on them."