Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nuclear Disaster Re-visited

The disaster at Chernobyl is now 30 years in the past. I was perusing the non-fiction titles at the library and came across this translated work. Originally, the work was first published in 1996 in Russian and explored how people living in the Soviet Union, especially in the affected areas, thought and felt about the disaster (in 2005-2006 the work was translated into English).

Book Review
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
Author: Svetlana Alexievich; Translated by Keith Gessen Picador
Macmillan Publishers, 2005
Read December 2016
1.5 stars

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
New Yorker Best Books of the Year
The Guardian (UK) Best Books of the Year

This book was rough to read in the beginning; I couldn't sympathize with anyone who chose to stay in the affected area because they didn't see the harm in radiation. There was a lot of talk by the elderly about how life was far worse during the war (World War II) and they survived, so they could survive this too. Then there were the men who wanted to be heroes or climb the ladder of leadership within the Communist Party that they went willingly to clean up the affected area or the nuclear plant itself. People were very naïve or incompetent. The death toll mounted and yet people continued to believe party officials. With the crumbling Soviet Union, this was a symbolic end to an empire. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the internal conflicts that arose in the power vacuum created refugees that sought safety in the empty villages surrounding Chernobyl, radiation be damned. Experts in nuclear science were avoided, scorned, or ignored.

The writing was translated to make much of the reading make sense, but some of the people profiled talked about WWII or philosophy and it ended up reading more like a word salad. It was repetitive, especially from the elderly and party men/women, who never broke from the official Communist Party story of what happened and how the West was trying to create trouble for the Soviets. Not much insight was found reading this book, so it can be an addition to your reading about the Chernobyl disaster but can not stand on its own for knowledge base. A good book if you are looking to beef up your academic work with first-person accounts or quotes.

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