Tag Archives: nuclear disaster

Voices from Chernobyl edited by Svetlana Alexievich

Interested in?

  • Russian/Soviet history
  • science “fiction” – this stuff is stranger than fiction

The Book:

April 26, 1986, an incredibly significant event occurred in an otherwise little known part of Russia called Prypiat, Ukraine SSR. The event was the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. A malfunction in the plant caused one of the reactors  to reach a high temperature resulting in a large explosion. The  explosion shot fuel and materials high into the atmosphere. This included dangerous levels of radiation.

The amount of radiation that was released from the explosion was 400 times the amount that occurred in Hiroshima.  High levels of radiation were detected not only in Soviet Russia, but also all over the world and were directly linked to the disaster.  It changed our world.

Voices from Chernobyl is a collection of stories told to and collected by Svetlana Alexievich. The stories give account to the lives that were affected and are still affected by the Chernobyl accident.  The voices were powerful and engaging. I was addicted to the horror and the humanity of the events as described by the people who lived through this.

There is no narration in the story, and yet, maybe because of the collective consciousness of the Soviet people, the stories remain consistent and cohesive. Although interconnected, Alexievich also presents many different perspectives, from the old ladies who refused to leave during the evacuations, to the officials who  made the calls to send people into the plant to put out the fires. The most haunting tale is the memories of a wife whose husband had died from radiation poisoning. The radiation feels like a mysterious evil.

Why?

Alan (my husband) and I were watching The VICE Guide to Travel: Chernobyl, and, of course, nuclear power has been a timely issue since the Fukushiuma nuclear crisis. The show was slightly sensational, but still riveting. I was struck with the idea that there are spaces in the world that have been almost forever changed, as if they were different dimensions now. The movie, and the book are full of images of vacant schools with drawn pictures on the wall, and wild animals living in abandoned houses.

Voices from Chernobyl opened up this world to me. And, if ever I was hesitant about our dependency on nuclear technology, that we don’t understand or have the capacity to totally control, I have definitely been swayed. Not cool.

Another fascinating theme of the book was the patriotism of the people who were ordered by their government to risk their health in order to clean up the disaster and make it better for others. The Russian people knew that they were needed, and that they stood up to the challenge, even when it meant dying of cancer at an early age.  This is crazy stuff!

If you enjoy this sort of thing, then please pick up this book. You will be haunted by it for the rest of your life.