Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

“Death is the fairest thing in the world. No one’s ever gotten out of it. The earth takes everyone – the kind, the cruel, the sinners. Aside from that, there’s no fairness on earth.” ― Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occurred in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl, first published in 1997 is the first book to present personal accounts of the tragedy. Alexievich, then in her 30s, interviewed more than 500 eyewitnesses, including firefighters, liquidators (members of the cleanup team), politicians, physicians, physicists and ordinary citizens over a period of 10 years.

“Come get your apples! Chernobyl apples!’ Someone told her not to advertise that, no one will buy them. ‘Don’t worry!’ she says. ‘They buy them anyway. Some need them for their mother-in-law, some for their boss.” ― Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl

 

Voices of Chernobyl is one of the most devastating and heartbreaking books I have ever read.  I spent all week reading it and often I just stopped and stared at some lines in complete shock: “My daughter was six years old. I’m putting her into bed, and she whispers in my ear: “Daddy, I want to live. I’m still little.” In chapter titled ‘Monologue about a whole life written down on doors’ a father of the girl asks you to picture yourself little girls being shaved bald. And the little coffins, like boxes for large dolls.

Or in chapter titled ‘Soldiers’ Chorus’, Sonny describes how he’s not afraid to die. He’s not afraid of death itself. But he doesn’t know how he will die. “My friend died. He got huge, fat, like a barrel. And my neighbor – he was also there, he worked a crane. He got black, like coal and shrunk (…) I was in Afghanistan too. It was easier there. They just shot you.”

Alexievich doesn’t succumb to explaining the hows and the whys of what happened. She does ot speculate. She just gives you these annihilating monologues by people who were impacted by this event.

5/ 5 stars

 

Tips
1.
UK title for this book is Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future, translated more directly  from the original title Чернобыльская молитва: Хроника будущего.
2. This is truly bone-chilling read. I think everyone should read it but it’s not easy to stomach these stories.
3. Upsetting read, yet this is the truest and the most beautiful form of journalism. I applaud Alexievich for her courage to write this.
4. 
 It’s always about people and about human tragedy. To prevent anything like Chernobyl disaster from happening ever again, one should read this. Tragedies like this can’t be understood by looking at figures.
5. There’s a beautiful film adaptation of this book by Pol Cruchten: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9RVnTeApSI

“Is there anything more frightening than people?”
― Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

Cover image:  One Day in the Life of Chernobyl by Diana Markosian from Wikipedia Commons