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Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster Paperback – April 18, 2006
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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 an alternate Paperback edition.
*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 an alternate Paperback edition.
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With navigational restraint and skill, she interviews those who survived the ordeal first and secondhand, and for those who did not survive, the flame of their memory was carried on by those loved ones who were left behind in the radioactive hell that Alexievich brings so descriptively back to life. By applying her literary aptitude and journalistic acumen, she enables these victims and survivors their dirge or aria of woe to be humanely and candidly expressed. She tells tales that are more grim than fanciful, of homes and villages abandoned, radioactive pets and farm animals hunted down and executed, of mutated children and citizens literally melting away due to the radioactive toxicity that was, by degrees, slowly killing them. Alexievich is also very astute at conveying the tyrannical old party Communist belief system that was held by the victims and survivors of Chernobyl before and after the nuclear disaster. The Chernobyl “cleanup” crew and others of the same cloth were spurred on by thoughts of heroic mother country illustriousness and beliefs of Soviet indomitability while others were propelled by a more capitalistic inspiration, that by being involved with the mop-up after the tragedy, they would benefit somehow monetarily and materialistically. And so, they willingly threw themselves into the epicenter of the nuclear monster, only to come out severely contaminated with dashed hopes and chintzy medals for their valiant efforts. Cold war politics and ideologies aside, when Chernobyl exploded, it melted something other than the physically tangible reactor and those who inhabited in and around it. The deadly blast melted away a long-held idology, a Communist philosophy that failed its people. It was, in some respects, the beginning of the end in many ways.
Like other great literary journalists and writers: Ernest Hemmingway, Joan Didion, Ryszard Kapuscinski (just to name a few), Alexievich is a powerful writer, who, with gusto and tenacity really throws herself into the story she is trying to tell. She too was born and schooled near where Chernobyl loomed, like an overwhelming Mt. Everest, and it was fitting that it was she who chose to tell this story. If a picture is worth a thousand words, than these monologues are worth far more.
The stories highlighted in the book and the relationship between the man-made structure of Chernobyl power plant, the nature and the impact of the disaster in everyday life is of unquestioned value for the years to come.
I think that these stories provide the human scale beyond any scientific data and must be considered by policy makers, planners and anyone involved in the future of energy.
A great work by Mrs. Alexievich, highly recommended to all readers. As for the quote of the greatest impact to me: "Man is helpless before the laws of physics"