There is no blurb for this one, partly because this copy didn’t come with one – just excerpts from newspaper reviews – and partly because it needs no blurb. The book speaks for itself and with Alexievich’s Nobel Prize in Literature award, it means it will thankfully never be forgotten.
After a short historical background on the explosion of reactor no. 4 (whose radioactive particles reached as far as China and Africa), the reader is introduced to A lone human voice. This truly shocking and saddening account sets the scene for this outstanding and powerful chronicle of eyewitness recollections from those that were involved with the Chernobyl catastrophe.
Often forgotten in the face of overwhelming statistics are the real human lives who have suffered, those forgotten get a voice here. The cost is not just in lives lost but dreams and hopes shattered, health ruined and families torn apart. This book focuses on the Belarusians who bore the brunt of the disaster and of those who helped try to contain it and the risks they took.
The beauty of this series of monologues is that Alexievich didn’t ask questions, instead she did the one thing that the people had been wanting for years, she listened. Apart from an essay of her own the author merely adds only the briefest additions to the text such as ‘he looks pensive’, ‘she cries’ and so on.
This allows the people to talk about whatever they need to and follow the direction of their thoughts and there is a surprising amount of philosophical views that come out. Especially as many still don’t accept the subtle devastation that hit their lands and destroyed them, who were then shunned by an uneducated public. What shines through is that they loved their land and animals, most of those living there knew little else and the passion for their lost place is ever present.
Yet those same people speaking are desperate for the world to listen and for somebody to understand what still causes them bewilderment. The chronicling of the stories is seen as something for the world to learn from, the future generations, it is a selfless act from people who lost so much and know they still carry the radiation inside them. some who still live in the radioactive zone and some who have been forced there with nowhere else to go.
The human sacrifice and willingness of volunteers as well as reservists and so forth, to go and help clean up is a testament to the human character – some worked closer to the reactor than the robots could go without having their curcuits fried – and in stark contrast to the regime that kept quiet about the accident and the effects it would have. Those who systematically lied and didn’t even bother to equip the workers with the correct (if any) gear for the task. The same regime that blamed the west for the explosion and sold radioactive food on because they had to reach their quota whilst hiding behind a wall of silence,
This oral history may not be the easiest read but it is required reading, it is a legacy of death and although it is filled with sadness, there are those stories of human kindness that really stand out, usually harking back to a wartime togetherness of community. I read this straight through for review purposes but I would probably recommend dipping in ocassionally instead as it can get gruelling at times. The reader will come away with so many conflicting emotion from this challenging work but this is real history told by those with no ulterior motive or desire for spin, those who have been without a voice for too long, those who lost everything.