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A startling history of the Chernobyl disaster by Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the Nobel prize in literature 2015 On 26 April 1986, at 1.23am, a series of explosions shook the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Flames lit up the sky and radiation escaped to contaminate the land and poison the people for years to come. While officials tried to hush up the accident, Svetlana Al A startling history of the Chernobyl disaster by Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the Nobel prize in literature 2015 On 26 April 1986, at 1.23am, a series of explosions shook the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Flames lit up the sky and radiation escaped to contaminate the land and poison the people for years to come. While officials tried to hush up the accident, Svetlana Alexievich spent years collecting testimonies from survivors - clean-up workers, residents, firefighters, resettlers, widows, orphans - crafting their voices into a haunting oral history of fear, anger and uncertainty, but also dark humour and love. A chronicle of the past and a warning for our nuclear future, Chernobyl Prayer shows what it is like to bear witness, and remember in a world that wants you to forget.


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A startling history of the Chernobyl disaster by Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the Nobel prize in literature 2015 On 26 April 1986, at 1.23am, a series of explosions shook the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Flames lit up the sky and radiation escaped to contaminate the land and poison the people for years to come. While officials tried to hush up the accident, Svetlana Al A startling history of the Chernobyl disaster by Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the Nobel prize in literature 2015 On 26 April 1986, at 1.23am, a series of explosions shook the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Flames lit up the sky and radiation escaped to contaminate the land and poison the people for years to come. While officials tried to hush up the accident, Svetlana Alexievich spent years collecting testimonies from survivors - clean-up workers, residents, firefighters, resettlers, widows, orphans - crafting their voices into a haunting oral history of fear, anger and uncertainty, but also dark humour and love. A chronicle of the past and a warning for our nuclear future, Chernobyl Prayer shows what it is like to bear witness, and remember in a world that wants you to forget.

30 review for Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nataliya

    Today, April 26th, is the 26th 27th anniversary of Chernobyl catastrophe. In case you're wondering - no, Google did NOT feature it on its home page (same as last year, sadly). But shouldn't humanity remember this disaster? **** This is one of the most horrifying books I have ever read. It reads like a postapocalyptic story, except for all of it is horrifyingly real. Svetlana Alexievich, a journalist, provides real but almost surreal in their horror oral accounts of Chernobyl disaster. On April 26 Today, April 26th, is the 26th 27th anniversary of Chernobyl catastrophe. In case you're wondering - no, Google did NOT feature it on its home page (same as last year, sadly). But shouldn't humanity remember this disaster? **** This is one of the most horrifying books I have ever read. It reads like a postapocalyptic story, except for all of it is horrifyingly real. Svetlana Alexievich, a journalist, provides real but almost surreal in their horror oral accounts of Chernobyl disaster. On April 26, 1986 an explosion of reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power station marked the transition from the idea of a "peaceful atom" to the worst nuclear catastrophe in history. This was a disaster largely hushed up by the government; people were lied to, the effects were minimized and brushed off, and there were not enough resources for a proper and safe clean-up. These true stories are heart-wrenching and shocking, honest and resigned, angry and hopeless. The city of Pripyat, which was home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear station, remains abandoned since that fateful April of 1986. People were thrown into the areas where machines were unable to function due to radiation - while wearing little more than t-shirts and equipped with shovels. People were on the burning roof of the reactor without any protection. People were dying from acute radiation sickness in the most horrifying ways imaginable. Scientists tried to sound alarm but were silenced. Produce heavily contaminated with radiation was still exported to other parts of the Soviet Union. Contaminated items from looted towns and villages appeared all over the country. People were whisked from their homes on buses and told that they would be gone for only a few days. Pets were shot to contain spread of contamination. Visiting officials came in full radiations suits; their local guide was wearing a sundress and sandals. Radiation meters readings were either ignored or falsified. Officials were bringing people out for May Day parades outside in accordance with orders from "above" and then watched their own family members succumb to the disease. Listless sick children live in surrounding areas and are just waiting to die. Alexievich lets the eyewitness accounts speak for themselves, with very little editorial voice. Occasionally, she clarifies the emotions or the reactions of the interviewees, but for the most part she lets them speak in their own voice. She does not preach or editorialize, and that makes the book more poignant. These are stories of people robbed of their present and future, of the disaster that is still claiming lives. Its effects will be felt for decades to come, in the sick children, mutated animals, abandoned cities and villages, and destroyed lives. I cried when I was reading this book. How can you not? 5 stars for the fact that she was courageous enough to listen to the heartbreaking accounts and compile all these stories. I would not have had enough strength to do that.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    I was about 5 when Chernobyl happened, and my family lived near the Baltic Sea, not that far from the explosion zone, relatively speaking. I can't really remember what exactly I understood about what had happened. I remember our family friend's little niece came from Belarus to stay for the summer. I have strange knowledge of the dangers of radiation and mutations and acid rains and death by "belokroviye" (leukemia). I knew a lot of people with enlarged thyroids and I also somehow still know tha I was about 5 when Chernobyl happened, and my family lived near the Baltic Sea, not that far from the explosion zone, relatively speaking. I can't really remember what exactly I understood about what had happened. I remember our family friend's little niece came from Belarus to stay for the summer. I have strange knowledge of the dangers of radiation and mutations and acid rains and death by "belokroviye" (leukemia). I knew a lot of people with enlarged thyroids and I also somehow still know that I need iodine not to get sick. Strange things I have in my subconscious. Sometimes I wonder what I learned from life and what - from Roadside Picnic (a novel prophetic in many ways). This is what Alexievich writes about - you live through Chernobyl, and Chernobyl becomes a part of you in many ways. It took me 30 years to finally be ready to find out what really happened. A lot of information is out there, but none of it presents the scope of the tragedy quite as well as Alexievich's work does. Told in personal stories, this collection of monologues leaves no stone unturned. Of course there are tales of horror and guilt and crime. But, mainly, I think Alexievich is right to conclude that what is at fault in this tragedy is Russian mentality - a peculiar beast of heroism, fatalism, idealism, carelessness, lack of self-preservation and unexplained hope that whoever is in power will know best. The same mentality that leads people to elect one dictator after another, through centuries, with the same catastrophic results.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    The Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich spent three years interviewing people who had been involved in Chernobyl: villagers from the surrounding area, "liquidators" (members of the cleanup squad), widows and children, nuclear scientists, politicians, even people who, incredibly, had moved to Chernobyl after the accident. She presents their words almost without comment. Sometimes she adds a [Laughs]; sometimes [Stops]; sometimes [Starts crying]; sometimes [Breaks down completely]. I am not The Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich spent three years interviewing people who had been involved in Chernobyl: villagers from the surrounding area, "liquidators" (members of the cleanup squad), widows and children, nuclear scientists, politicians, even people who, incredibly, had moved to Chernobyl after the accident. She presents their words almost without comment. Sometimes she adds a [Laughs]; sometimes [Stops]; sometimes [Starts crying]; sometimes [Breaks down completely]. I am not sure I have ever read anything quite as horrifying. It is like a very well written post-apocalyptic novel in many voices, and it's all true. Here are some extracts. From the translator's preface:The literature on the subject is pretty unanimous in its opinion that the Soviet system had taken a poorly designed reactor and then staffed it with a group of incompetents. It then proceeded, as the interviews in this book show, to lie about the disaster in the most criminal way. In the crucial first ten days, when the reactor was burning and releasing a steady stream of highly radioactive material into the surrounding area, the authorities repeatedly claimed that the situation was under control.From the Historical Notes:During the Second World War, one out of every four Belarussians was killed; today, one out of five Belarussians lives on contaminated land. This amounts to 2.1 million people, of whom 700,000 are children.From a liquidator's account:We had good jokes too. Here's one. An American robot is on the roof of the reactor for five minutes, then it breaks down. The Japanese robot is on the roof for five minutes, then it breaks down. The Russian robot's been up on the roof for two hours! Then someone shouts over the loudspeaker: "Private Ivanov! Two hours more, and you can take a cigarette break!"From a nuclear physicist's account:There's a moment in Ales Adamovich's book, when he's talking to Andrei Sakharov. "Do you know," says Sakharov, the father of the hydrogen bomb, "how pleasantly the air smells of ozone after a nuclear explosion?"From a politician's account:I was First Secretary of the Regional Committee of the Party. I said absolutely not. "What will people think if I take my daughter with her baby out of here? Their children have to stay." Those people who tried to leave, to save their own skins, I'd call them into the regional committee. "Are you a Communist or not?" It was a test for people. If I'm a criminal, then why was I killing my own grandchild?" [Goes on for some time but it is impossible to understand what he is saying]From a teacher's account:Our family tried not to economize, we bought the most expensive salami, hoping it would be made of good meat. Then we found that it was the expensive salami that they mixed the contaminated meat into, thinking, well, since it was expensive fewer people would buy it.From a widow's account:When we buried him, I covered his face with two handkerchiefs. If someone asked me to, I lifted them up. One woman fainted. And she used to be in love with him, I was jealous of her once. "Let me look at him one last time." "All right."From a father's account:My daughter was six years old. I'm putting her to bed, and she whispers in my ear: "Daddy, I want to live, I'm still little." And I had thought she didn't understand anything.From the author's afterword:These people had already seen what for everyone else is still unseen. I felt like I was recording the future.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Candi

    "Chernobyl is like the war of all wars. There’s nowhere to hide. Not underground, not underwater, not in the air." While cheerful carols played, holiday lights sparkled, and countless dollars were being spent on mostly unnecessary gadgets and superfluous luxuries, I read this account of one of the worst disasters ever to afflict our planet. I sunk further into the funk that threatened the existence of my Christmas tree and that brought my own holiday shopping to a screeching halt. It seemed absur "Chernobyl is like the war of all wars. There’s nowhere to hide. Not underground, not underwater, not in the air." While cheerful carols played, holiday lights sparkled, and countless dollars were being spent on mostly unnecessary gadgets and superfluous luxuries, I read this account of one of the worst disasters ever to afflict our planet. I sunk further into the funk that threatened the existence of my Christmas tree and that brought my own holiday shopping to a screeching halt. It seemed absurd to parade around with bags in hand while the voices of the survivors of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion echoed incessantly within my head. Svetlana Alexievich, Ukrainian journalist and winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, has compiled a most remarkable narrative of the catastrophe from the people who witnessed the horror firsthand. Moms, dads, wives, husbands, children, scientists, liquidators, politicians, and even refugees to the area were interviewed and asked to speak candidly. The stories are full of sorrow, shock, bewilderment, anger, and occasionally stoical humor. All were straightforward and unembellished. I sensed that each carried the weight of genuine feeling. I can’t write anything more meaningful than what the sufferers themselves have already said. Please listen to their voices: "I killed her. I. She. Saved. My little girl saved me, she took the whole radioactive shock into herself, she was like the lightning rod for it. She was so small." "The future is destroying me, not the past." "You’re a normal person! And then one day you’re suddenly turned into a Chernobyl person. Into an animal, something that everyone’s interested in, and that no one knows anything about. You want to be like everyone else, and now you can’t." "I want to bear witness: my daughter died from Chernobyl. And they want us to forget about it." "I suddenly started wondering about what’s better—to remember or to forget?" "If we’d beaten Chernobyl, people would talk about it and write about it more. Or if we’d understood Chernobyl. But we don’t know how to capture any meaning from it. We’re not capable of it. We can’t place it in our human experience or our human time-frame." "We’re all—peddlers of the apocalypse. Big and small. I have these images in my mind, these pictures." "There are ten million Belarussians, and two million of us live on poisoned land. It’s a huge devil’s laboratory." "This level of lying, this incredible level, with which Chernobyl is connected in our minds, was comparable only to the level of lies during the big war." "Chernobyl is the catastrophe of the Russian mind-set… it wasn’t just the reactor that exploded, but an entire system of values." "The kids draw Chernobyl. The trees in the pictures grow upside-down. The water in the rivers is red or yellow. They’ll draw it and then cry." "… everyone was raised to think that the peaceful Soviet atom was as safe as peat or coal. We were people chained by fear and prejudices. We had the superstition of our faith." "I used to write poems. I was in love with a girl. In fifth grade. In seventh grade I found out about death." It’s not difficult to be shocked by the statistics of the disaster. You can look those up anywhere and your jaw will drop. But to understand what ordinary people like me and you went through is absolutely heart-rending. Reading their words, commiserating with their feelings of misery and fear, and knowing that the suffering for many of these people still continues – that is what makes this so impactful. Naturally, I began to think “What if…” But that’s just too painful to ponder any further right now. When I’m feeling braver, I will watch the miniseries I’ve heard so much about. I suspect it will be more frightening than any Stephen King adaptation could ever be. "What should I tell you? 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."

  5. 5 out of 5

    JV (semi-hiatus)

    "You feel how some completely unseen thing can enter and then destroy the whole world, can crawl into you." Dejecting and quintessential, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster contains the harrowing accounts of lives lost and lived after the cataclysmic disaster that happened on April 26, 1986, near the city of Pripyat. The explosion created a seemingly bright crimson glow in the sky. Awestruck, residents nearby marvelled at its exhilarating beauty. "We didn't know t "You feel how some completely unseen thing can enter and then destroy the whole world, can crawl into you." Dejecting and quintessential, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster contains the harrowing accounts of lives lost and lived after the cataclysmic disaster that happened on April 26, 1986, near the city of Pripyat. The explosion created a seemingly bright crimson glow in the sky. Awestruck, residents nearby marvelled at its exhilarating beauty. "We didn't know that death could be so beautiful. Though I wouldn’t say that it had no smell—it wasn't a spring or an autumn smell, but something else, and it wasn't the smell of earth." Little did they know that these series of blasts that had occurred inside block number 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant has sent forth unbelievable amounts of uranium and other atoms into the atmosphere capable of obliterating, mutating, and rending flesh at will. Time was its greatest ally and death was around the corner fully anticipating the setting sun. "We already had thousands of tons of cesium, iodine, lead, circonium, cadmium, berillium, borium, an unknown amount of plutonium (the uranium-graphite reactors of the Chernobyl variety also produced weapons-grade plutonium, for nuclear bombs)—450 types of radionuclides in all. It was the equivalent of 350 atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima." These are poignant vignettes about survival, compassion, resilience, fortitude, ignorance, pain, hope, and love. I commend Alexievich for her astounding journalism that she was able to give these individuals their voices. How I wished this nuclear meltdown never occurred — so many innocent lives have been lost when one values cost more than the lives of others. Truly, humans never learn from the past. With technology continuously improving, the more we are put into a situation where we are not well-equipped enough to fully understand and handle such advancements, sometimes to the detriment of our well-being and even others. How sure are you that history will never repeat itself? At this rate, we know what humans are capable of and if that is not ominously frightening, I don't know what is! It's disheartening for me to say that we will be the harbinger of our own demise. "I've wondered why everyone was silent about Chernobyl, why our writers weren’t writing much about it — they write about the war, or the camps, but here they're silent. Why? Do you think it's an accident? If we'd beaten Chernobyl, people would talk about it and write about it more. Or if we'd understood Chernobyl. But we don't know how to capture any meaning from it. We're not capable of it. We can't place it in our human experience or our human time-frame. So what's better, to remember or to forget?"

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    "Sometime in the future, we will understand Chernobyl as a philosophy. Two states divided by barbed wire: one, the zone itself; the other, everywhere else. People have hung white towels on the rotting stakes around the zone, as if they were crucifixes. It's a custom here. People go there as if to a graveyard. A post-technological world. Time has gone backwards. What is buried there is not only their home but a whole epoch. An epoch of faith. In science! In an ideal of social justice! A great emp "Sometime in the future, we will understand Chernobyl as a philosophy. Two states divided by barbed wire: one, the zone itself; the other, everywhere else. People have hung white towels on the rotting stakes around the zone, as if they were crucifixes. It's a custom here. People go there as if to a graveyard. A post-technological world. Time has gone backwards. What is buried there is not only their home but a whole epoch. An epoch of faith. In science! In an ideal of social justice! A great empire came apart at the seems, collapsed. First Afghanistan, then Chernobyl. When the empire disintegrated, we were on our own. I hesitate to say it, but...we love Chernobyl. We have come to love it. It is the meaning of our lives, which we have found again, the meaning of our suffering. Like the war. The world heard about us Belarusians after Chernobyl. It was our introduction to Europe" - Chairwoman, Woman's committee of Children of Chernobyl. My own memories of April 26 1986 and the Chernobyl catastrophe are vague, I was only nine-years-old and not interested in the news. I do however remember my parents being glued to the TV set on that day, I didn't fully understand what was going on, but knew it was bad. Over time, my knowledge of the disaster remained sketchy, picking up bits of information here and there, but it felt to me like the whole event was brushed under the carpet, for the rest of the world to forget, no outside eyes getting on to what really happened in the clean up operation. Until now, and reading Alexievich's book, the only image that was strong in my mind is of the abandoned bumper cars from the visiting fair, rotting away in a mechanical graveyard. That's now all changed. Whatever her genre, Svetlana Alexievich is an original, a true voice, a voice that is hers and hers alone, but it's through the voice of others, the ones the rest of the world never got to here, opening up on their thoughts, living smack bang in the middle of the worse possible nightmare. Exploring pain and loss on an unprecedented scale, the forgotten speak out, making for one of the most upsetting, harrowing and heart-felt books I will ever get to read. If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it's no more than a pinprick to the naked eye, this is writing of immense suffering, of death, the soul of mankind rocked to it's core. But it is also filled with a gigantic love, an all powerful love that no amount of radiation could ever destroy, as these people show what big hearts us humans carry around with us. Some of the accounts within, I just couldn't quite believe, that had me seeing red. Surely this is some sort of joke?, how the hell could these things be aloud to happen?, this was 1986, not 1896, the bodies in control (or should that be no control what so ever) should hang their heads in shame!. The amount of deaths and deformities that should never have been allowed to happen makes me sick to the stomach. Some were unavoidable. Most weren't. A true history of its people need be no more than the howls of despair of millions of souls. Punctuated by moments of incredible tenderness, courage and grim humour. The scale of the devastation and its insidious nature are perhaps beyond the power of the individual mind to imagine, which is one good reason why the polyphonic form Alexievich has made her own is so unique and so appropriate. Only the voice of the witnesses can do the events justice, and in Chernobyl Prayer, after some shocking facts about the explosion and its immediate aftermath, it's the testimony of those living close by, that grab you around the neck, before dragging you off into their world. Alexievich’s documentary approach makes the experiences vivid, sometimes almost unbearably so, but it’s a remarkably democratic way of constructing a book, and at no point did I ever lose attention. It's far too important for that. Svetlana Alexievich fully deserved the Nobel Prize for her work. But compare this to the agonising accounts she writes about, it soon becomes meaningless. A book I didn't want to read, but I HAD to read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Greta G

    I will never forget a documentary I saw about the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986. This documentary, The Battle of Chernobyl, directed by Thomas Johnson, provides a very good understanding of what happened at the time of the accident and afterwards. It contains rare original footage and interviews with people who were present, or involved in the handling of this catastrophe. It's available on demand on Vimeo and I highly recommend it, because I think it's a really good addi I will never forget a documentary I saw about the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986. This documentary, The Battle of Chernobyl, directed by Thomas Johnson, provides a very good understanding of what happened at the time of the accident and afterwards. It contains rare original footage and interviews with people who were present, or involved in the handling of this catastrophe. It's available on demand on Vimeo and I highly recommend it, because I think it's a really good addition to this book (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/thebattleo...). I would have struggled understanding the translator's preface, and the tenor of some testimonies, if I hadn't seen this documentary. The prologue of the book is in fact the first interview, with the widow of a fireman who arrived at the plant a short time after the explosion. Until now, I've never heard such a heartbreaking story. I doubt anyone who reads this interview, will ever be able to forget it. The book also ends with another heartbreaking testimony, again from a widow. The long-term suffering of her husband is horrifying. In between these, there are interviews with all sorts of people affected by the Chernobyl disaster. The author wrote the testimonies down just the way they were told. That makes them very personal and honest. On the other hand, sometimes it made no sense at all what some where saying. Overall, it's an eye-opening, honest work that's very different in approach. How do people feel, think, live, after being confronted with this terrifying catastrophe. "Chernobyl is like the war of all wars. There's nowhere to hide. Not underground, not underwater, not in the air" (p.75). "It was constantly being compared to the war. But this was bigger. War you can understand. But this? People felt silent" (p.141). "This level of lying, this incredible level, with which Chernobyl is connected in our minds, was comparable only to the level of lies during the big war" (p.143).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    As I watched the HBO miniseries about Chernobyl, I thought incessantly about the people: the first responders, the farmers, the children. In short, the entire affected population. Lies were told, contaminated food consumed, lives were lost and are still being lost. The human cost is incalculable and ongoing to this day. Chernobyl should not be referred to as an “accident.” It was, and is, an unimaginable disaster. It destroyed an empire, demoralized a people and shocked the world. This anthology As I watched the HBO miniseries about Chernobyl, I thought incessantly about the people: the first responders, the farmers, the children. In short, the entire affected population. Lies were told, contaminated food consumed, lives were lost and are still being lost. The human cost is incalculable and ongoing to this day. Chernobyl should not be referred to as an “accident.” It was, and is, an unimaginable disaster. It destroyed an empire, demoralized a people and shocked the world. This anthology (published in 1997) makes public the profound physical and psychological effects both during and after the disaster. The people speak. Over and over again you read “We didn’t know. We believed. You can’t understand. It was like a war zone.” Their experiences are difficult to read, searing, and essential. Let us hope Fukushima Daiichi is the last nuclear disaster to occur.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin

    Damn it. This book broke my heart. I mean I’ve read all about it before, I’ve watched things. BUT, it still breaks my heart all these people went through and the animals! 🥺 Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾 Damn it. This book broke my heart. I mean I’ve read all about it before, I’ve watched things. BUT, it still breaks my heart all these people went through and the animals! 🥺 Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Very touching voices, chronicling the Chernobyl experience and comparing life before and after the moment that changed everything. Svetlana Alexievich captures the suffering of ordinary people of all walks of life, as well as that of professional staff sent to Chernobyl to deal with the crisis immediately after it happened. She creates a social panorama of the society that was affected in its totality by the nuclear disaster. I will never forget my feelings in 1986, living in West Germany and at Very touching voices, chronicling the Chernobyl experience and comparing life before and after the moment that changed everything. Svetlana Alexievich captures the suffering of ordinary people of all walks of life, as well as that of professional staff sent to Chernobyl to deal with the crisis immediately after it happened. She creates a social panorama of the society that was affected in its totality by the nuclear disaster. I will never forget my feelings in 1986, living in West Germany and attending a small town primary school. All of a sudden, global politics became a tangible reality and a threat. Chernobyl was the first man-made disaster that I experienced and understood. After Chernobyl, nothing was ever as innocent as before again. A wake-up call for my social conscience, you could say. But I never grasped what it was like for the people who were there, who saw it happen, who had to make decisions on their future based on that catastrophe. Reading Alexievich gave me inside knowledge of the nightmare I remember from my childhood. While we were just kept away from certain foods, and weren't allowed to play in the sandbox or go on field trips, people in proximity to Chernobyl fought - often hopelessly - for their lives. I had to put down the book several times and take a break, as the stories are painful to read, particularly those which tell of ordinary issues and problems, and of ordinary people. The individuals telling their stories are not heroes, and they don't have the privilege of being seen and heard and worshipped for their suffering, like religious martyrs or soldiers. They just happened to be singled out by the shared experience of the disaster: "We're often silent. We don't yell and we don't complain. We're patient, as always. Because we don't have the words yet. We're afraid to talk about it. We don't know how. It's not an ordinary experience, and the questions it raises are not ordinary. The world has been split in two: there's us, the Chernobylites, and then there's you, the others. Have you noticed? No one here points out that they're Russian or Belarussian or Ukrainian. We all call ourselves Chernobylites. "We're from Chernobyl." "I'm a Chernobylite." As if this is a separate people. A new nation." It is the author's strength to put those silent voices on loudspeaker, to let them have their say, to let them show "the others" what it was really like to live through a nuclear accident. Alexievich gives literature a democratic touch, not putting her creativity in focus, but rather her empathy for the different people she encounters. Her literary skills lies in the careful collection and arrangement of the disparate voices to a reading experience of unique character. Intense reading! I strongly recommend it to the world of today. Read and think.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    2020 has been a scary year. For some reason I decided that it would be a good year to read and watch as much as I could about Chernobyl. Maybe not the best idea I have ever had, but at least it has led me to take in some pretty captivating non-fiction content. First I read Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster which was extremely powerful and nerve-wracking. Then I watched the Chernobyl series on HBO. While I don’t believe Midnight in Chernob 2020 has been a scary year. For some reason I decided that it would be a good year to read and watch as much as I could about Chernobyl. Maybe not the best idea I have ever had, but at least it has led me to take in some pretty captivating non-fiction content. First I read Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster which was extremely powerful and nerve-wracking. Then I watched the Chernobyl series on HBO. While I don’t believe Midnight in Chernobyl was listed as source material, since it is non-fiction it makes sense that they were very similar. And, the show was equally captivating and nerve-wracking The last stop on my Chernobyl journey (for now) is Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster . This is very different material from Midnight in Chernobyl and the TV show. Instead of being a play by play of the events as they unfolded, this is a random series of interviews conducted about a decade after the disaster with people affected by Chernobyl. When I say random, I mean that one interview may be with the wife of a firefighter, the next a series of short paragraphs from people who were children at the time of the disaster, followed by an interview with a soldier or liquidator assigned to Chernobyl and what they saw, etc. There is no timeline or flow – it is very stream of consciousness in a way. I think reading and watching more solid narrative on the situation first helped to put this book better into perspective. Like all of the books about the world’s response to previous outbreaks/pandemics, I think this book, along with the others about Chernobyl and the aftermath, are importing reads for everyone. It may not be the easiest content to swallow, but by educating ourselves, learning from our mistakes, and seeing how people who thought they were safe and could trust their government were affected, we can hopefully avoid history repeating itself.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Teodora

    This book was really, really good and I might consider re-reading it. What's with us people that we love so much reading about disastrous things like that?

  13. 5 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    Extraordinary compendium of monologues detailing various effects of the Chernobyl disaster. Alexievich's skill at unearthing horrible, moving truths from her interviewees is notable. I'd suggest supplementing the book with some background reading on Chernobyl (wikipedia is fine), since the medium doesn't allow for a direct re-telling of what happened. The two wives' tales that bookend the narrative will stick with me for a long time.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    A few years ago, I left a copy of Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History out on the table. It was designed as a sort of breadcrumb trail for my teenaged son who didn’t need to read since he already knew everything. I hoped he might be sucked in by the pictures. A week later my son walked out of his bedroom clutching the book. “Have you read this!?” he was nearly yelling with urgency. “This guy…I can’t believe…shit! I’m telling my English teacher that he needs to make everyone in the A few years ago, I left a copy of Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History out on the table. It was designed as a sort of breadcrumb trail for my teenaged son who didn’t need to read since he already knew everything. I hoped he might be sucked in by the pictures. A week later my son walked out of his bedroom clutching the book. “Have you read this!?” he was nearly yelling with urgency. “This guy…I can’t believe…shit! I’m telling my English teacher that he needs to make everyone in the class read this book!” The Chernobyl nuclear disaster needs its Maus if only because so many young people in America have never even heard of it. (I actually asked a bunch.) There’s been documentaries, novels, nonfiction accounts, and even a horror movie, but none carry the gravitas of a really important historical retelling. Luckily Voices from Chernobyl comes very close. The author is a journalist from Belarus who won the Nobel Prize in 2015. For this account, she interviewed hundreds of residents, people on the cleanup teams, politicians, scientists, the list goes on. She sets them here as monologues from ordinary people, some horrific, some disjointed, some philosophizing, and some darkly funny. Many of the passages are almost unbearable to read like this quote from a solider on clean up duty. We came home. I took off all the clothes that I had worn there and threw them down the trash chute. I gave my cap to my little son. He really wanted it. And he wore it all the time. Two years later they gave him a diagnosis: a tumor in his brain…you can write the rest of this yourself. I don’t want to talk anymore. In another section a soldier describes killing the household pets left behind in villages that had been evacuated. The animals were radioactive and residents weren’t allowed to take them. The dogs were waiting for people to come back. They were happy to see us, they ran toward our voices. We shot them in the houses, and the barns, in the yards. They couldn’t understand why are we killing them? They were household pets. They didn’t fear guns or people. They ran toward our voices… One dog—he was a little black poodle. I still feel sorry for him. We loaded a whole dump truck with them, even filled to the top. We drove them over to the “cemetery.” To be honest it was just a deep hole in the ground even though you’re supposed to dig it in such a way that you can’t reach any ground water, and you’re supposed to insulate it with cellophane. But of course those instructions were violated everywhere….If they weren’t dead, if they were just wounded, they’d start howling, crying. We’re dumping them from the dump truck into the hole, and this little black poodle is trying to climb back out. No one has any bullets left. There’s nothing to finish him with. Not a single bullet. We push him back into the hole and just buried him there. It was just a little household poodle, a spoiled poodle. This one thing stuck in my memory. Twenty guys. Not a single bullet at the end of the day. Not a single one. Yet, as an American who doesn’t know enough about Chernobyl, I wish the book had contained more historical information. A map would have been helpful, along with an explanation of what exactly happened and an estimate of how many people were affected across what distance. Also, I couldn’t find any structure to the monologues. They blend together with no sense of chronology or related themes, which was hard on my order-seeking brain. That said, reading this is intense and deeply emotional. I’m thankful to Svetlana Alexievich for putting Voices from Chernobyl into the world because I believe every one of us should know what happened in Pripyat, Ukraine. It should be required reading.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Annemarie

    A very interesting and important book, although sometimes quite hard to read due to the topic. I'm not in the position to judge the individual stories, I can just say that they all hit me in some way, made me emotional and/or made me scoff at all the horrible and unjustified things that took place.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jibran

    Note: This is not a review of the book. Nobel prize makes us read writers we hadn't even heard of before. A good thing for sure. When I saw the news flash of 2014 lit prize I was like Patrick Who? The same as this year. Well, of course this is my utter ignorance, so far as this year's winner is concerned, who seems to be quite well-known in serious reading circles. If creative non-fiction is as good for Nobel as fiction and poetry, I'm wondering why didn't Ryszard Kapuściński ever get it. Now tha Note: This is not a review of the book. Nobel prize makes us read writers we hadn't even heard of before. A good thing for sure. When I saw the news flash of 2014 lit prize I was like Patrick Who? The same as this year. Well, of course this is my utter ignorance, so far as this year's winner is concerned, who seems to be quite well-known in serious reading circles. If creative non-fiction is as good for Nobel as fiction and poetry, I'm wondering why didn't Ryszard Kapuściński ever get it. Now that's a serious omission right there, unpardonable. It is some coincidence that they waited all these years only to remember Svetlana Alexievich when the Western bloc is in a renewed conflict with Russia (and the half of humanity that doesn't buy West-led world security paradigm). Nobel will always deny politics influencing their choices. Sure, but what about blind spots? There was a time when lordly racist hooliganism was garlanded. I'm referring to the erstwhile Kipling Sahib. Disclaimers don't really matter do they. We don't operate in a neutral world. Everything asks to be seen in context, associations will be made where patterns are visible, nothing comes out of a blank slate, especially considering that Nobel has quite a history of awarding prizes to political prisoners or dissidents who had fled to the "Free World" with things to tell and a point to prove, whose work was then (mis)used to lend support to Western policies toward those states aka Nobel as a veritable propaganda tool in the wars of disinformation. In 2010 the prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo. The guy is nearly a fascist but since he could say openly what Westerners couldn't say to the face of the Chinese premier, many pundits got excited and showered gong-giving plaudits on him, without checking who they were lauding. But since he was incarcerated, we were supposed to shed tears on his fate. What’s Nobel prize worth when mass murderers like Winston Churchill and recently the custodian of military industrial complex Barack Obama were rewarded but not someone like Mahatma Gandhi who was nominated in 1937, '38, '39, '47, and '48. Whatever might be the truth of inevitable politics influencing the Nobel award, one thing remains indisputable, and to those who say it doesn't matter I will respectfully disagree: Alexievich work will suffer unnecessary controversy, a taint, a gloss, an ugly appendix to its otherwise fine body . Rather than help focus on the shames of humanity as encapsulated in the disparate (and desperate) voices gathered in her books, her work would be seen as a fresh attempt to strengthen the anti-Russian sentiment by refreshing the world’s memory about the historical injustice and oppression of the Soviet Empire and its friends, thus vindicating one party and vilifying the other. I reiterate that this isn't a criticism of Alexievich's work, which might be great in terms of literary merit, humanistic values and social justice, but when there are other powerful states starting more wars and killing more people the world over, for her to acquiesce in using the Nobel springboard to join the chorus of voices directed against her imperium non grata is akin to doing her life's work a disfavour. Mum always says, There is no virtue in doing the right thing at the wrong time. (view spoiler)[Don't hate me! (hide spoiler)]

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bjorn

    The first interview is with the widow of one of the firemen who were sent in on the first day. He'd been shoveling radioactive sludge dressed in only jeans and a t-shirt, his skin turned grey over an afternoon, he literally fell apart within days. She caught cancer from sitting at his bedside as he died. The second interview is with a psychologist who lived through World War II in the Ukraine and still can't find anything that compares to working in the Zone. The third is with one of the old women The first interview is with the widow of one of the firemen who were sent in on the first day. He'd been shoveling radioactive sludge dressed in only jeans and a t-shirt, his skin turned grey over an afternoon, he literally fell apart within days. She caught cancer from sitting at his bedside as he died. The second interview is with a psychologist who lived through World War II in the Ukraine and still can't find anything that compares to working in the Zone. The third is with one of the old women who moved back a few years later, lives illegally in her little cottage out in the woods. What else is she supposed to do? The radiation can't be that bad if you can't see it. The fourth is with a father trying to explain how it feels to bury his daughter, dead from a disease that, officially, cannot exist. And so on and so on and so on. Voices From Chernobyl is one of the harshest reportage books I've read. Aleksievich doesn't try for objectivity, for a whole picture, for a rational explanation of the hows and whys and the why nots of what happened on 26 April 1986 outside Pripyat, Ukraine, and the aftermath. The coverups, the reassurances, the suicidal heroism, the disintegration of the USSR along with the people who had to keep on living on radioactive ground. Chernobyl is too big, she argues; its a trauma of mythical proportions, one whose full effect we don't even know yet (certainly not in 1997), it cannot be understood with mere numbers anymore than the Holocaust or the plague can, you need stories. So the book consists of only that; interviews, with Aleksievich's own questions removed, leaving only a chorus of disembodied voices identified only by their first name and a title. Some have enough distance to it to offer their ideas of how it could happen (blame communism, blame decadence, blame deep-rooted Russian fatalism, blame alcohol, blame...), while others cannot look away from their own memories. What it all means to them. The soldiers who dove, voluntarily, into the cooling tank to vent it manually. Dead now, of course. The people sent in with orders to find entire cities clean. Who measured lethal radiation in breast milk and could do nothing about it. The flag they raised over the reactor when the sanitation was supposedly finished, to celebrate the Soviet state's victory.The radiation annihilated it within days. So they raised another one. A joke: both the Japanese and the US donated experimental remote-controlled robots to be used in the cleanup. The Japanese robot lasted an hour before the radiation fried it. The US robot lasted three hours. The Soviet robot worked for 8 hours, then its commanding officer said "Good work, Private Ivanov, you may take a break." The soldiers were told vodka was good for flushing the radiation out of your system. The teacher who thought she would be safe by only buying the most expensive food, surely that would be OK... until she found out that the officials had raised the prices on food from contaminated areas to make sure people ate less of that. The official who realised, to his horror, that the pits they dug to bury the tools and machines they used at the accident site were empty; everything sold on the black market, spread all around the Union, with no way to tell a highly radioactive tractor from a normal one. The mother, fighting desperately for the life of a daughter born without a lower body; forget walking, she can't even take a dump. And so on and so on and so on. It's not the book you should read to get an overview of what happened. It doesn't have any answers, any conclusions, its subjectis too big to do anything but start to outline the questions surrounding a trauma that, argues Aleksievich, hasn't been dealt with yet. 25 years on, 15 years after being written, it's probably in dire need of a sequel. But it is an absolutely bone-chilling documentary.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ines

    When i finished to read the last page of this book and closed it, a very important phrase came in my mind, it came deep from my soul.... Iudica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta; ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me (Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man) Psalm 42,1 May the dead all be embraced by eternal life, and may the pain of the living one day have justice in front of the Almighty. There When i finished to read the last page of this book and closed it, a very important phrase came in my mind, it came deep from my soul.... Iudica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta; ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me (Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man) Psalm 42,1 May the dead all be embraced by eternal life, and may the pain of the living one day have justice in front of the Almighty. There will never be any justice, reward, earthly reclamation that can ever soothe the heart and soul of those who have experienced this devastation... Alexievich interviews,voices and testimonies are extreme, annihilating you because you wonder, how did all these people whose tragedy we can read, after more than 30 years, live on,or survive such terrible iniquity. Wich meaning of life could be enough for the hearths for going on day by day? It is all the day that i continue to think about the firefighter and is little baby girl buried in the concrete forever!! This book is a masterpiece, i have read many books about Chernobyl, but for any particular reason i skipped this one... There is not much to say except that this was a tragedy of all humanity; In the face of what has happened... we are all witnesses of how this fact has slowly killed the absolute and unshakeable faith of the Soviet man towards the regime. Thank you Dame Svetlana Alexievich for this book and for your wonderful writing! ( I understand why she won the Literature Nobel Prize in 2005!!) Che i morti siano stati tutti abbracciati dalla vita eterna e che il dolore dei vivi abbia giustizia un giorno al cospetto dell' Onnipotente. Non vi sarà mai nessuna giustizia, ricompensa,bonifica terrena che potrà mai lenire il cuore e l'anima di chi ha vissuto questa devastazione.... Le interviste e le testimonianze della Alexievich sono devastanti, ti annichiliscono perchè ti chiedi, come siano mai riusciti tutte queste persone di cui possiamo leggerne la tragedia, dopo piu di 30 anni, a vivere,o a sopravvivere ad una immane iniquità del genere.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is a moving, often harrowing, oral history of the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. It begins with the story of the young, pregnant wife of one of the first fire fighters, who responded to the fire at Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and of his slow, untimely death. This is hard to read, but also extremely humbling. The author allows the words of those who lived, and many who still live, in the affected areas to tell their own story. It is a catalogue of trauma – of lives which w This is a moving, often harrowing, oral history of the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. It begins with the story of the young, pregnant wife of one of the first fire fighters, who responded to the fire at Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and of his slow, untimely death. This is hard to read, but also extremely humbling. The author allows the words of those who lived, and many who still live, in the affected areas to tell their own story. It is a catalogue of trauma – of lives which were disturbed by events so cataclysmic that the effects rippled around the whole planet. Imagine that you are sitting at home, browsing through books on the internet, when you are told that you need to leave your home within the next two hours. You can take only a small amount of items with you – one bag. Yet the sun is still shining and the danger is unseen. Would you be happy to go? Would you refuse to leave? Would you realise that, when you closed your front door, you would never return? Many of the locals affected by Chernobyl left their lives with no idea they would not go back. They abandoned houses, jobs, pets. Once they arrived at their destination, their luggage was taken – often buried. Houses, villages, were left abandoned, or buried in the earth. Yet people did return. One man actually reclaimed his front door – which his family had always laid the bodies of their dead relatives – snatching it in the night and taking it, like a thief, through the woods. Others did return; finding that relatives rejected them or they were tainted by association with the place they came from. Better to face an unseen enemy than to be exposed to constant taunts and fears. Others fled war zones, or racial intolerance, for the relative peace of this deserted area. This is a tragic book, but an important one. It tells not only of the tragedy of the disaster, but of the aftermath. Of illness, death, birth defects, the loss of loved ones, the way the disaster was not dealt with effectively and of the heroism of those who went in, trustingly, to try to stop the unbelievable being even worse. One man, who worked at the plant, knew his wife and daughter were out and about in the town. Should he call, and warn them, or take the party line and pretend nothing was wrong? He called – then he went home and called everyone he could contact. Undoubtedly, he saved lives, but so many lives were lost and the effects are certainly still affecting so many people today. I found this a hard read, but I could not put it down.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    There's nowhere to hide. Not underground, not underwater, not in the air. I was born in the age of the known Chernobyl. Everyone found a justification for themselves, an explanation. I experimented on myself. And basically I found out that the frightening things in life happen quietly and naturally. Who are our fittest. In Afghanistan death was a normal thing. You could understand it there. Who are our heroes. I didn't know we weren't allowed to love here. Rabbits reabsorb their young w There's nowhere to hide. Not underground, not underwater, not in the air. I was born in the age of the known Chernobyl. Everyone found a justification for themselves, an explanation. I experimented on myself. And basically I found out that the frightening things in life happen quietly and naturally. Who are our fittest. In Afghanistan death was a normal thing. You could understand it there. Who are our heroes. I didn't know we weren't allowed to love here. Rabbits reabsorb their young when the conditions of the environment are unfit for propagation. I've thought a few times that someday they're going to start hunting the scientists the way they used to hunt the doctors and drown them in the Middle Ages. The Death of God's a popular topic. How is the Death of Science coming along? You're a writer, but no book has helped me to understand. Philo. Love. Sophos. Wisdom. Radiation. Kodoku. We're all—peddlers of the apocalypse. We've outpaced our survival. No mutations yet for surviving nuclear winter, but we evolved enough to conceptualize the end of the world a millennium or two ago. But the era of physics ended at Chernobyl. One can find ethics in a lab if the expiration date of an engineered fatality is eternal enough. I'm the product of my time. I'm not a criminal. Annihilating despair on the generational level's just a social construct, y'know. It was the equivalent of 350 atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima. They needed to talk about physics, about the laws of physics, but instead they talked about enemies, about looking for enemies. The facts may be easier to remember, but the show must go on. We'll show the whole world! But this is me, this is I. I don't want to die. I'm afraid. Humans are social creatures. Even the dead fear these dead. Humans are hierarchical creatures. There are over 25 million ethnic Russians outside of Russia—a whole country—and there's nowhere for some of them to go but Chernobyl. All the talk about how the land, the water, the air can kill them sounds like a fairy tale to them. They have their own tale, which is a very old one, and they believe in it—it's about how people kill one another with guns. -Svetlana Alexievich.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jen/The Tolkien Gal/ジェニファー

    "Is there anything more frightening than people?" One day I will read this book again. One day when I can muster the courage to trek back to my tear-stained copy. Not only is Alexievich a wonderful journalist, but a woman who knows how to talk to people as fellow human beings who pour out their aching hearts onto the pages of these books. She captures the dialogue wonderfully; she makes you feel as though you were at the Chernobyl Plant when it failed. She also manages to encapsulate such a rich var "Is there anything more frightening than people?" One day I will read this book again. One day when I can muster the courage to trek back to my tear-stained copy. Not only is Alexievich a wonderful journalist, but a woman who knows how to talk to people as fellow human beings who pour out their aching hearts onto the pages of these books. She captures the dialogue wonderfully; she makes you feel as though you were at the Chernobyl Plant when it failed. She also manages to encapsulate such a rich variety of stories and the truths of people's lives, ranging from a widow who describes how her husband's skin clung to the hospital bed as his sheets were changed (no - not bedsores - his flesh) to an old woman who refuses to leave the area of Chernobyl, staying alone in the forests and living off of the irradiated land. The stories of the men who might as well have been sent naked to pick up uranium with their hands to the evocative words of leukaemia-stricken children, so young and yet sadly wise about their imminent deaths. Read this because we should never experience another Hiroshima - another Nagasaki - and another Chernobyl. We humans never do learn. Courtesy of Jen's mini reviews

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Lawson

    Devastating. Beautiful. Terrible. It should be required reading, but take it in pieces. It's hard to pick up and hard to put down.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    “In the space of one night we shifted to another place in history.” “It sometimes felt to me as if I was recording the future.” I recently spent a weekend riveted in front of the TV, watching the incredible HBO series “Chernobyl”, sitting on the edge of my seat, unglued by the story I saw on the screen, impressed by the flawless cinematography and utterly baffled that a TV show about a nuclear explosion could freak me out way more than any horror movie ever had. I read an interview with the seri “In the space of one night we shifted to another place in history.” “It sometimes felt to me as if I was recording the future.” I recently spent a weekend riveted in front of the TV, watching the incredible HBO series “Chernobyl”, sitting on the edge of my seat, unglued by the story I saw on the screen, impressed by the flawless cinematography and utterly baffled that a TV show about a nuclear explosion could freak me out way more than any horror movie ever had. I read an interview with the series creator, Craig Mazin, who said that: "The lesson of “Chernobyl” isn't that modern nuclear power is dangerous. The lesson is that lying, arrogance, and suppression of criticism are dangerous”. Ouch. I read that the stories included in the series were largely based on the ones found in Alexievich’s book, which I had seen on my Goodreads feed several times, but was not in any special hurry to get around to until I watched the series. But after those 5 hours of gripping television, my curiosity pushed me (as it often does) all the way to the book store to get my hands on this collection of first-hand accounts from people who were directly impacted by the disaster. While the TV show did an excellent job of explaining what happened, how it happened and how the disaster was managed, “Chernobyl Prayer” comes and brings the very personal stories to light. Some of those stories are harder to read and more harrowing than any horror novel. Alexievich doesn’t shy away from telling the reader how her interviewees reacted to telling her their stories, how it still affected them – needless to say I had lump in my throat on more than one occasion. The profound empathy to be found in these pages is incredible: Alexievich spoke to people of all walks of life, who were touched by the disaster in many different ways, and the result is a rich spectrum of testimonies, opinions and accounts from widows, liquidators, politicians, scientists, children, former residents of the Zone, people who refused to leave it… Their different perspectives create a patchwork portrait of the disaster, a very complicated event that can be safely said to have shifted history. I was very struck by the thoughts of an academic turned politician, who mentions that the Soviet Socialist community was a lot like a cross between a prison and a kindergarten, and that its people always expected someone to fix the problem for them, and by those of an agricultural scientist, who pointed out that people were likely to fall for the spiel of snake oil salesman if the pitch was reassuring, and were tricked into believing false science about the Zone and the food grown there - resulting in many cases of illness and death. All this sounds much too contemporary to my taste... And of course, the two accounts from widows that bookend the collection of "monologues" are some of the most heartbreaking testemonies of love I have ever read. I was only two years old at the time of the Chernobyl explosion, and it wasn’t something my parents ever talked about as far as I can remember, so I knew very little about the disaster. Now I know more than I am entirely comfortable with, if I’m going to be honest. This is basically like reading a Cormac McCarthy novel, except that its actually journalism. An important but difficult book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    E. G.

    Some historical background A lone human voice The author interviews herself on missing history and why Chernobyl calls our view of the world into question --Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future A lone human voice In place of an epilogue

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kinga

    The Soviet Union was the worst place for Chernobyl to happen, and for the same reasons that’s why it happened there. The agrarian society suddenly pushed into the atom age, ignorant and stubborn. The corruption, favouring the party line over competence, fixing any problem with a kludge, but via central planning. And the Soviet man ethos of sacrificing oneself on the altar of the country. Russia has always had many souls to spare. This book is as bad as some of the most horrific apocalyptic/dystop The Soviet Union was the worst place for Chernobyl to happen, and for the same reasons that’s why it happened there. The agrarian society suddenly pushed into the atom age, ignorant and stubborn. The corruption, favouring the party line over competence, fixing any problem with a kludge, but via central planning. And the Soviet man ethos of sacrificing oneself on the altar of the country. Russia has always had many souls to spare. This book is as bad as some of the most horrific apocalyptic/dystopian novels out there. But of course, unless you’re an actual psychopath, you’re not going to get any titillation from it as you would from fictional disaster scenarios. Alexievich received a Nobel Prize for literature, even though one might ask if she is actually a writer. We don’t read any of her words, only the words of her subjects. She is a collector of oral histories and her artistry lies in selecting, editing and pacing them. And, one could add, her ability to completely remove herself. She doesn’t even fact-check her subjects, not even in footnotes. Whether what they are saying is true or not, it’s their truth and she lets them say it. She doesn’t ease you in, either. She opens with a story of such a level of horror it left me crying on my morning commute. But what did I expect? It’s a story about a nuclear disaster and the Soviet Union. Not that it gets easier after the first story, it’s all sadness, horror and disaster with occasional glimpses of melancholy and black humour. There is a story about a man who was one of ‘liquidators’ (part of the Chernobyl clean-up team). When he returned, he binned all his clothes but his little boy loved his dad’s hat, so he let him keep it. The boy wore it all the time and a few years later he died of brain cancer. There are stories of children who talk about death casually, the Chernobyl children - children born to die. There are stories of earnest heroism of the common people and the calculating cynicism of the officials. It’s a patchwork picture of people fighting an invisible enemy, the kind the Soviet Russia didn’t prepare them for. The kind that is hard to believe, because everything looks the same, the fields, the forests, the sky, their pets and their gardens, and yet it’s all poisoned, and tainted. It has to be left behind. READ THIS BOOK NOW. I’M NOT GOING TO ASK YOU TWICE. (PS. I read it in Polish translation by Jerzy Czech but the English translation is also excellent from what I've seen)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Deeply harrowing, deeply moving, and at times incredibly difficult to read. Alexievich has produced something that goes beyond simply storytelling or presenting the facts about Chernobyl. She’s lived through it with the people she speaks too. She seems able to present their words as if you’re there, experiencing the initial pain and death, ostracism and prejudice along with them. It’s a masterpiece of writing that packs the initial punch of reliving a young woman’s experiences by her dying husba Deeply harrowing, deeply moving, and at times incredibly difficult to read. Alexievich has produced something that goes beyond simply storytelling or presenting the facts about Chernobyl. She’s lived through it with the people she speaks too. She seems able to present their words as if you’re there, experiencing the initial pain and death, ostracism and prejudice along with them. It’s a masterpiece of writing that packs the initial punch of reliving a young woman’s experiences by her dying husband’s side and goes into all manner of people’s varied tales, from the clean up workers, the teachers, soldiers and peasants. We hear stories of what became of the animals left behind, the radiation that still plagues the people who refuse to leave the radiation zone, and the many, many people widowed by the disaster. What really stands out when reading all these accounts is the solidarity between the Chernobyl ‘survivors’. They’re a collective solidarity that seems to permeate the pages between these people, and the overall similarity of their stories. They’ve almost become united in their adversity, one quote, which mentions fearing not radiation but people, really struck a chord.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Pavel

    CONGRATULATIONS, SVETLANA ALEXIEVICH WITH THE NOBEL WIN! I can't express enough how proud for her and happy I am right now! __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Undoubtedly, this was one the most, if not the most powerful text written in Russian language for the last few decades. It's a doc book. Svetlana Aleksievich gave voice to dozens of ordinary people who suffered from Chernobyl disaster. They are telling their stories without auth CONGRATULATIONS, SVETLANA ALEXIEVICH WITH THE NOBEL WIN! I can't express enough how proud for her and happy I am right now! __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Undoubtedly, this was one the most, if not the most powerful text written in Russian language for the last few decades. It's a doc book. Svetlana Aleksievich gave voice to dozens of ordinary people who suffered from Chernobyl disaster. They are telling their stories without author interference, she only gives them opportunity to speak. ...How soldier was chasing radioactive cat around trying to kill it and little girl, owner of the cat was running behind the soldier, screaming: "Run away, little cat, run away"... ...How head of the city brought his little granddaughter to 1st May demonstration, so people would think everything is alright, there's no radiation and later that girl died from leukaemia... ...How local girls organised several free brothel near the station for liquidators, knowing that they will have to die and liquidators will have to die too... And hundreds of others. Aleksievich was exiled from Belorussia where she lived. Authorities don't want the truth.Now she hides somewhere in Europe. This is only one of five such books by her: others are about Afgan War, Chechen war, Women stories at war... I will read and review them later, the actual books are already on my shelf, but this reading is too strong to swallow all at once.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dem

    3.5 Stara The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster . On April 26 1986 the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occured in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quaters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl Presents personal accounts of the tragedy. I remember here in Ireland in 2002 Iodine tablets designed to counteract radioactive iodine were issued across Ireland amid fears of a terrorist attack on the Sellafield site, which is just 180 kilometres from the Irish coast. The 2002 batch – 14. 3.5 Stara The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster . On April 26 1986 the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occured in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quaters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl Presents personal accounts of the tragedy. I remember here in Ireland in 2002 Iodine tablets designed to counteract radioactive iodine were issued across Ireland amid fears of a terrorist attack on the Sellafield site, which is just 180 kilometres from the Irish coast. The 2002 batch – 14.2million tablets at a cost of €630,000 – expired in 2005 but I do remeber this was a direct fear for Irish people after what happened in Chernobyl. The book is very interesting and an important account of real and ordinary people and their suffering. It will be thirty years since the accident and yet the suffering will continue for lifetimes to come. I did however find about half way through the book that the voices tended to blend into one and I found myself a little distracted. We dont get to know any of the voices very well but I can understand the authors reasons for this as its and oral history which is more about expressing the anger fear and love of the time than makeing a connection with the owners of the voices. There is an organisation here in Ireland which is doing amazing work by flying children from Belarus and placing them in Irish homes for a few weeks each summer. They attend summer camps and enjoy life as Irish children do and its a wondful way to give children from this area a break and to experience a different culture An interesting and important book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    [P]

    Voices from Chernobyl has been sitting on my bedside table for months, and numerous times I have approached it cautiously as though it were a wild animal. There necessarily exists, between the reader and any given book, a one-sided relationship; I knew that if I were to read Voices I would be taking something from it, without giving anything back, except perhaps a review. It was, however, the something that concerned me. There are, for me at least, certain books that ask of you: do you need this Voices from Chernobyl has been sitting on my bedside table for months, and numerous times I have approached it cautiously as though it were a wild animal. There necessarily exists, between the reader and any given book, a one-sided relationship; I knew that if I were to read Voices I would be taking something from it, without giving anything back, except perhaps a review. It was, however, the something that concerned me. There are, for me at least, certain books that ask of you: do you need this? It is a genuine question. Do I need whatever I am going to take from this? I am aware that there is tremendous suffering in the world, and I can quite easily imagine what the contents of a book such as this will be, so why put myself through it? What, if you frame the question selfishly, is in it for me? [The ferris wheel is part of an amusement park that was scheduled to open on May 1 1986, in Pripya, near the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Of course, it never did.] On April 28th 1986, there were a series of explosions at a nuclear power plant in the city of Pripyat, Ukraine. As a result of this accident, the worst nuclear accident in history, a large part of Europe was contaminated by radiation. Voices from Chernobyl is not, however, a truncated history of the event, nor is it strictly a record of it. It is, instead, a collection of transcribed interviews, mostly monologues. These interviews were conducted by Svetlana Alexievich; the interviewees are people who were in some way affected by the disaster. Therefore, as one would expect, there are many disturbing, often gruesome, details or anecdotes. There are faces ‘all puffed up and swollen’; there are bodies covered in ‘black spots’; there are sheets covered in blood; there is cracking skin, flaking skin; and there are, of course, deaths, many, many deaths. Yet, as hinted at in my introduction, this sort of thing holds little interest for me. I am not, to quote my own phrase, a literary ambulance chaser. I do not get my reading kicks gorging myself on death, distress and destruction; I don’t need the grisly particulars; I don’t want them in my head. That being exposed to radiation results in disfigurement and pain is not something of which I require proof. I get it; I already got it long before opening this book. This is not to say that I do not understand why the people involved want to share this information. They, as a number of interviewees declare, ‘want to bear witness’; they want, I imagine, to put on record the truth, the unadulterated truth as they witnessed it and experienced it, especially as some of them believe that the Soviet government have tried to cover up the full horror of the event. Their loved ones didn’t just die, they suffered, and they – the government – ‘want us to forget about it.’ And so it is of course important to them that this suffering is acknowledged, in their own minds and memories, and by the world-at-large. “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.” Voices from Chernobyl‘s longest section, or interview, is the opener; told by Lyudmilla Ignatenko, it details the last days of one of the first-response fireman, Vasily. Yet the real focus is on Lyudmilla herself, and her dedication and bravery in refusing to be put off by the authorities from caring for and visiting her husband. It is, in essence, a love story. However, while I certainly do not wish to underplay how emotionally affecting her account is, her actions and her love for her husband are not what make it compelling. She says at the beginning that she doesn’t know what she ought to talk about – ‘about death or about love? Or are they the same?’ And then goes on to show how she came to believe in a connection between these two things. What I found fascinating about Lyudmilla’s account – and I write this with the utmost respect – is that it reads like fiction, not so much in terms of the content, but the structure. Perhaps it is a consequence of having thought so much about these events, or of having retold them so many times, but one gets the impression that the details have been worked, or moulded, into a narrative, a story, that most satisfies. This is something that plays on my mind a lot, how we – unintentionally or unconsciously – shape and refine our experiences, internally, i.e. in our own heads, and then often via our sharing them with others. I have noticed myself doing this, as I have worked on my own life stories or memories, and how, over time, I have left bits out, have edited, rewritten etc, have streamlined, until they have maximum impact. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not accusing Lyudmilla, or Alexievich, of cynical manipulation or untruths; I am merely stating that many of the stories in this book impressed me, moved me, by virtue of what they communicated to me about the way that we engage with our memories or experiences, which is to say that we perfect them. “Chernobyl is like the war of all wars. There’s nowhere to hide. Not underground, not underwater, not in the air.” Yet most moving, for me, was the realisation, or the continued proof, of the fact that ‘ordinary people’ are capable of such relentless compassionate wisdom and insight. Hardly a page went by without some line, or image, or idea that almost took my breath away. Pytor S. says: ‘the future is destroying me, not the past’; Nikolai Fomich Kalugin says: ‘Chernobyl is a signal. Everyone turns their head to look at you’; Nadezhda Petrovna Yygovskaya says: ‘we didn’t understand then that the peaceful atom could kill, that man was helpless before the laws of physics.’ These are examples that I picked out by opening the book at random. When I selfishly asked at the beginning of this review: what is in it for me? Why, in other words, should I read Voices from Chernobyl? It is in these lines, these words, and others like them, that I found the answer.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Neal Adolph

    I had no idea. But now I know something more. What can I say about your book, Svetlana? Not much, to be honest. My mind is processing it slowly, thinking about the format and methodology you used, wondering if what you have done is good enough to warrant having won the Nobel while, at the same time, marveling at the power of your work. You see, I had no idea of the greater impacts of the Chernobyl incident on the lives of the people who were misled and abused by the state. I had no means of under I had no idea. But now I know something more. What can I say about your book, Svetlana? Not much, to be honest. My mind is processing it slowly, thinking about the format and methodology you used, wondering if what you have done is good enough to warrant having won the Nobel while, at the same time, marveling at the power of your work. You see, I had no idea of the greater impacts of the Chernobyl incident on the lives of the people who were misled and abused by the state. I had no means of understanding it - no way of comprehending the scope of the tragedy, the vast number of tales and lives which were broken into pieces as numerous as decaying skin cells. Like I said, I had no idea. But now I know something more. You are careful, Svetlana, to be nothing more than the vessel through which stories could be told. You try not to get in the way. You even write yourself out of the interview at times, but then write yourself back in sometimes with a sly observation. It is clear that these monologues are spoken to somebody, spoken in an interview, the topic switches sometimes abruptly because of a new question, and sometimes the speaker even addresses you with boldness. You seem to have some degree of incredulity. I admire that - wanting to get to the heart of something but not wanting to get in the way of the heart. I admire that. You are also quite inventive. The opening story was the first of many to break my heart, and yet, like a train wreck I needed to continue reading through the pain so that I, too, could become a witness to human folly through the folly of science and bad governance. I, too, needed to do that. The opening story was a love story and the closing story was a love story, slightly longer, very similar, just different enough to be the story of a different human, a different wife of a different liquidator. This was powerful bookending. But more than that I think you need to be commended for your choruses. I sat there and marveled at their structure and shaping and impression, the layering of voices. I saw small herds of children in a darkly lit theatre reciting them to me, all in unison, with precision of consonance of vowels, like a spoken word choir or poetry. Slowly the lights increased with intensity on their scarred faces. You wondered if they were glowing, these children, nurses, wives, liquidators, or was that some masterful theatrical effect. Svetlana, you are inventive. I am a historian by training and by passion, and am, as a result, saddled with the duties which are incumbent upon all writers - the task of communicating well. I'm not sure I've done that yet, but you make me wonder if it is because I write myself into the text too much rather than allow the evidence to talk about itself - something that is quite capable of doing if it is given the space of memory. So you make me wonder at methodology. And at your talent. Where is your voice, Svetlana? Where does it start and where does it end? This is a wonderful, often inspiring, always disturbing, piece of literature. Radiation and is Discontents.

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