Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

Talk about post-apocalyptic. This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year and deserves to be highlighted in this blogspace. Apocalyptic and terrifying. Like Rachel Cusk, Bolaño, and the very worst visions of Philip K. Dick thrown together into one nighmarish blender.

I love the oral history format of this book – it’s such a haunting, affecting style. The book is basically a collection of monologues, spoken by people connected to the Chernobyl disasters. The monologues were collected and arranged by the author, who is a Belorussian journalist. I did find myself wondering if the monologues had been transcribed verbatim, or if they’d been rearranged/reinterpreted by the reporter. The speakers of the monologues include children, wives, firefighters, members of the clean-up team. The anecdotes involving abandoned pets were particularly upsetting.

The deaths of loved ones are described in gruesome detail: tumors growing all over the body, eyes pointing in different directions, noses engorged. Resettled children from Chernobyl are teased by others, said to “glow” and nicknamed “shiny”; instead of playing School or Store they play Hospital. Entire villages are buried underground, smashed down by cranes; radioactive earth is buried in earth. Looted houses, abandoned villages, herds of cats and dogs and boars. As the radioactive cloud rises, people stand in the streets in skirts and sandals, selling pies and ice creams and pastries, unaware of what’s happening. People choose to stay, refuse to leave, buy expensive salami, hoping that it would be made of good meat; “then we found out that it was the expensive salami that they mixed contaminated meat into, thinking, well, since it was expensive fewer people would buy it.” (182) “The frightening things in life happen quietly and naturally,” one voice observes, and that theme is what I found most affecting in this book.

A must-read for the 21st-century. I underlined SO MUCH of this; far too many quotes to choose from to include here. So instead I’ll include a link to an excerpt.

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Filed under apocalypse, non-fiction, review

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