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Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster Paperback – April 18, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A chorus of fatalism, stoic bravery and black, black humor is sounded in this haunting oral history of the 1986 nuclear reactor catastrophe in what is now northeastern Ukraine. Russian journalist Alexievich records a wide array of voices: a woman who clings to her irradiated, dying husband though nurses warn her "that's not a person anymore, that's a nuclear reactor"; a hunter dispatched to evacuated villages to exterminate the household pets; soldiers sent in to clean up the mess, bitter at the callous, incompetent Soviet authorities who "flung us there, like sand on the reactor," but accepting their lot as a test of manhood; an idealistic nuclear engineer whose faith in communism is shattered. And there are the local peasants who take this latest in a long line of disasters in stride, filtering back to their homes to harvest their contaminated potatoes, shrugging that if they survived the Germans, they'll survive radiation. Alexievich shapes these testimonies into novelistic "monologues" that convey a vivid portrait of late-Communist malaise, in which bullying party bosses, paranoid propaganda and chaotic mobilizations are resisted with bleak sarcasm ("It wasn't milk, it was a radioactive byproduct"), mournful philosophizing ("[t]he mechanism of evil will work under conditions of apocalypse") and lots of vodka. The result is an indelible X-ray of the Russian soul.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* "Chernobyl is like the war of all wars. There's nowhere to hide." On April 26, 1986, the people of Belarus lost everything when a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station exploded. Many people died outright, and many were evacuated, forced to leave behind everything from pets to family photographs. Millions of acres remain contaminated, and thousands of people continue to be afflicted with diseases caused by radiation as 20 tons of nuclear fuel sit in a reactor shielded by a leaking sarcophagus known as the Cover. For three years, journalist Alexievich spoke with scores of survivors--the widow of a first responder, an on-the-scene cameraman, teachers, doctors, farmers, Party bureaucrats, a historian, scientists, evacuees, resettlers, grandmothers, mothers--and she now presents their shocking accounts of life in a poisoned world. And what quintessentially human stories these are, as each distinct voice expresses anger, fear, ignorance, stoicism, valor, compassion, and love. Alexievich put her own health at risk to gather these invaluable frontline testimonies, which she has transmuted into a haunting and essential work of literature that one can only hope documents a never-to-be-repeated catastrophe. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (April 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312425848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312425845
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 80 people found the following review helpful By M. Grigsby VINE VOICE on May 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is a translation of interviews with survivors 10 years after Chernobyl. The first-person descriptions of living in the "Zone" after the disaster, and the implications of living in radioactivity is chilling and compelling. The book is full of heartbreaking stories of Russian people who survived WWII but then were confronted with another disaster of unbelievable magnitude. I absolutely couldn't put this book down, and feel that it should be promoted as one of the best books of the year. As we are now approaching the 20th anniversary of this event, I keep wondering how many of those people interviewed in 1996 are still alive. This book deserves a huge audience!
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Julee Rudolf VINE VOICE on September 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
says an evacuee in Voices of Chernobyl, an absolutely riveting collection of oral histories of people from all walks of life, affected for eternity by the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor on April 26, 1986. "A Solitary Human Voice," the prologue, recounted by a woman whose husband was one of the first on the scene as a firefighter, will lure you in and, once there, you'll feel compelled to continue to the end, painful as it may be. She's pregnant, newly married and very much in love when she hears the news. The doctors and nurses and try to no avail to keep her away from her husband once he's done his duty at the plant and then sent to a special hospital in Moscow for victims of radiation poisoning, along with six other firemen. Her baby dies. Her husband dies, horribly, the last of the seven of his crew.

These stories of "Chernobylites," the stigmatized and disdained victims of the accident, share a common theme. The government was neither truthful nor forthcoming about the level of danger that those living near the area of the Chernobyl plant experienced. They did not provide the victims with information on treatment in a timely manner, because it would have meant admitting that a horrible accident had actually occurred. Those who tried to warn others of the danger were silenced or mocked. Men were sent to clean up the site and were given extra pay in exchange, ultimately, for their lives. Because people could not see the radiation, they kept on eating contaminated food, breathing contaminated air, using contaminated clothing and living (approximately 2.1 million people) on contaminated land. Immediately afterwards, men were sent to kill the domestic animals, evacuate the people and, using shovels and minimal protective gear, remove the contaminated soil.
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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Balbach on November 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Occasionally I'll read first-hand accounts about human catastrophes in the modern world, such as Sudan or Rwanda or Katrina, because it offers a window into what I as a middle class American normally would never see or experience, hopefully making me a better and wiser person without becoming numb or a "dark tourist". Books are more subtle and rich than film and more rewarding in the end.

As an oral history this is a frightening experience (the term "experience" emphasized). Chernobyl has been largely hushed up and kept quiet, the scope of it is worse than most know or understand (occasionally we hear a few hundred or thousand people died and certain cancers are slightly up, don't believe it, much worse). Only about %5 of the nuclear material escaped so it was a minor accident on the scale of things. There is a %50 chance of another meltdown happening elsewhere in the world over the next 40 years (sourced in book). Had Chernobyl been a full meltdown much of Europe would be dieing off as we speak. 16 more Chernobyl-type reactors are still in operation (14 in Russia). As Alexievich says in her epitaph: "These people had already seen what for everyone else is still unknown. I felt like I was recording the future."

The disaster of Chernobyl is still going today, it never ended, it is like AIDS - it just keeps getting worse, there is no cure for radiation which lasts 100s of 1000s of years. The radiated material is finding its way outside of the "Zone" and spreading slowly around the world. Down the rivers into the seas, blown on dust, carried out by hand by bandits in the form of trucks and TV's and scrap metal sold to Asian scrap metal firms which build the goods we buy, grown in food and sold on the world market.
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83 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
READ THIS BOOK! First, I am a retired career military officer and veteran combat fighter pilot who once flew aircraft armed with nuclear weapons. This compilation of personal histories is heart-wrenching and soul-searching. The mostly free and honest recitations are emotionally searing. The first chapter brought tears to my eyes before I was half-through. These histories are also an indictment of the cover-your-tail, follow the party line, system of government and a stern warning that nuclear power must be under the closest of controls - forever. I finished the book about 1100PM but was unable to fall asleep until after 0130AM. I am, after reading this book, totally against the commercial use of atomic energy since the drive for profit must inevitably result in lowering of standards in maintenance and operational control as has already been manifested in, say, Three-Mile Island. I only wish I had the funds to send a copy of this book to every Congressperson. George Soros, are you there?

Walter E. Bjorneby, Lt/Col, USAF (Ret)
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