Tag: Chernobyl

Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich

Posted February 20, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana AlexievichTitle: Voices from Chernobyl (Goodreads)
Author: Svetlana Alexievich
Translator: Antonina W. Bouis
Published: Aurum Press, 1997
Pages: 288
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (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.

All that is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

Posted October 28, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction / 7 Comments

All that is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeonTitle: All that is Solid Melts into Air (Goodreads)
Author: Darragh McKeon
Published: Viking, 2014
Pages: 391
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

All that is Solid Melts into Air tells the story of the Soviet Union in 1986. A nine year-old piano prodigy continuously falling victim to bullies, a surgeon throwing himself into his work to avoid the emotion pain of a failed marriage, a former dissident struggling to free herself from political constraints. Everyday Russians trying to make life work in this repressed state; that was until a disaster in Ukraine changes things.

Most people who know me know that I am a fan of Russian literature and books set in Russia. The Cold War years are of particular interest to me, the social and political unrest makes for a haunting backdrop for great story telling. When I head that All that is Solid Melts into Air was this year’s answer to A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, it was all I needed to buy this book. While reading the book I found out the novel centred around the Chernobyl nuclear accident which just gave that extra element to turn this into a new favourite.

I have never read a novel about the Chernobyl disaster before and I am struggling to think of other books that focus on this historical event. So I was pleased to have a new insight on a situation I hope to never experience. This was a beautiful and haunting tale of Russians living life and the connections they make along the way. However little gems like the controversial idea of implementing safety measure pre-disaster and the Soviet Union’s efforts to cover the accident up really helped make this novel great.

The title is taken from a line in The Communist Manifesto, which is quoted before the novel kicks off. This is an interesting quote to add, not just to give a reference to the title but the implications of what to expect within the novel. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels theorise in their political manifesto, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”.

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” – Karl Marx (The Communist Manifesto)

While this is a strong character driven novel, it is not the personal but political transgressions that stood out for me. All that is Solid Melts into Air is set in a time where the Iron Curtain is beginning to collapse; things are drastically changing and then the disaster involving the Chernobyl Power Plant throws the people into civil unrest. While the book focuses on a few characters the overall theme is one of class struggles. The Russian people struggling against the Soviet government; the fear and repression rules stronger than the radioactive atmosphere. An interesting concept considering the communist society that Marx wrote about was nothing like the political government at the time.

I am a little sad to see this gem has remained under the radar; All that is Solid Melts into Air deserves so much more attention. Despite that horrific setting, this is a novel of great beauty with visceral portrayals of both people and places. The struggle the people go through is handled with tender care and empathy. It is hard to believe that Darragh McKeon is a debut author; much like Anthony Marra, I am eagerly awaiting his next novel. All that is Solid Melts into Air is a new favourite and you can expect it to be near the top of my ‘best of 2014’ list.