Title: Voices from Chernobyl (Goodreads)
Author: Svetlana Alexievich
Translator: Antonina W. Bouis
Published: Aurum Press, 1997
My Copy: Hardcover
Buy: Amazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)
In 2015, Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for literature, thus resurging some buzz for her 1997 book Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. Originally translated into English in 1999 by Antonina W. Bouis, the book was also released in a new translation by Keith Gessen in 2005. This translation went on to help Alexievich win the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction in 2005. Svetlana Alexievich is a Belarusian journalist who set out to interview more than 500 eyewitness accounts of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. She interviews people involved with the clean-up, including firefighters and liquidators (a name given to the clean-up team), as well as politicians, physicians and citizens. The book Voices from Chernobyl is just a few of the stories that came from the interviews.
I found a copy of Antonina W. Bouis’ translation at a fete and picked it up for $2, not because it was so cheap but because it was the first time I have seen this book for sale. I have been wanting to read this book for a while, as part of my interest toward Russian history and the Soviet era. The preface of the book offers a few facts that I was unaware of, at the time of publishing, Belarus still had over 20% of the land contaminated by nuclear fallout. The reason this book was published was mainly because Russia and Ukraine are normally associated with this horrible disaster and Belarus is often forgotten about. Even though around 70% of the radiation fell onto this small country.
I picked up Voices from Chernobyl back in November 2015 but due to a loss of a family member I had to put it aside. I did slowly work my way through the book one devastating story at a time and found this book to be a very emotional journey. It not only explored the physical devastation but also the psychological and cultural impact the Chernobyl disaster. I do not think I have ever found a book that explores the impact of nuclear accident quite like this.
It is hard to review a book like this; it is not a comfortable read but it provides some valuable insights into such a devastating event. Most people know that I love the Soviet era and ever since reading All That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon, I knew I needed to know more about this disaster. I think this is an important book to read. I would have preferred to read the Keith Gessen translation, because my research shows that to be a better translation. I think this is my biggest problem with Voices from Chernobyl and should not deter people from picking up this book.