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Chernobyl Prayer – Svetlana Alexievich

13 Feb

chernobylprayerThere 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.

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56 Comments

Posted by on 13/02/2017 in History, Modern Classics, Politics

 

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56 responses to “Chernobyl Prayer – Svetlana Alexievich

  1. Liz

    13/02/2017 at 15:57

    Goodness me, how right you are that this is a story that needs to be told, and of course read. Thank you for highlighting it, and also for that film clip which is both tragic and mesmerising.

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    • Ste J

      13/02/2017 at 16:26

      I got through the book in about three and a half days and had to put some real effort into reading it. There was a lot of strong stuff in there but so worthwhile. I feel a lot better informed about a lot of things, not just about that event. The drone footage is eerie, especially the funfair at the beginning…

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Liz

        13/02/2017 at 16:46

        I think it is good for us to force ourselves to read important works from time to time. It may be a challenge, but the resulting learning and development is worth it. I can’t stop thinking about that footage. So strange to think of that area in its abandoned state – A kind of desolate scar on the landscape. I wonder how extensive the affected area is -it can’t just be the city. Must check out whether there are any satellite images etc that would shed some light on this.

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        • Ste J

          13/02/2017 at 16:50

          There was originally a 40km exclusion zone but as to the areas of most radioactive the book doesn’t really give any information as it was all eyes on the smaller picture, so to speak. I am glad I read it and look forward to more books like that, if that is the right term. The more I know, the more I need to know.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • Liz

            13/02/2017 at 17:58

            A quick google search reveals plenty of images – one gets drawn in very quickly. I am also reminded of Rachel Carson’s ground-breaking ‘Silent Spring’, which I have always meant to read – have you, by any chance?

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            • Ste J

              14/02/2017 at 15:18

              I haven’t even heard of it but that will shortly be remedied! It’s one of those topics that compels people to read and watch more about it.

              Liked by 1 person

               
  2. Sheila

    13/02/2017 at 17:43

    Wow – this sounds excellent. I’ve always been interested in Chernobyl and will definitely read this – thank you. The film is eerie with those carnival rides in the beginning. It’s interesting to see how far reaching the abandonment of the area was since the film is showing rural areas along with the city.

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    • Ste J

      14/02/2017 at 15:07

      It is amazing how little time it takes for nature to reclaim abandoned areas. It must be strange to go there and see a whole way of life just abandoned.

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  3. Lucy

    13/02/2017 at 20:05

    Oh wow, I have to get this. It look fascinating, and disturbing, but fascinating. I remember it on the news, I used to worry a lot about nuclear bombs as a child, trying to decide what I would do with my last three minutes after there was a warning, but like this, it’s far more likely to be a power station accident, and a more drawn-out affair.

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    • Ste J

      14/02/2017 at 15:33

      Did Threads have anything to do with your fears at all? It did show my former workplace BHS getting blown up which amused me when I saw clips of it. A power station accident is more frightening, I think. Not being a senseless act of war but more likely due to natural factors or inattention to safety equipment or such…and all those people living near by too…so I’ve picked up some Dostoevsky now to lighten the mood.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Jeff

        14/02/2017 at 17:48

        Hey – how prophetic Threads was about the end of BHS. Nice to see a Capitalist stepping in where the Communists failed.
        I think there was a TV doc recently about the new shell being built around the reactor, and there were clips that showed the town when it ‘existed’. Maybe the shift to Dostoevsky after all that ghostliness and death is appropriate?

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        • Ste J

          22/02/2017 at 12:10

          The Idiot is a surprisingly light hearted book so far, I am enjoying it when I get time and it is a world away from al the real life horrors, the new shell looks impressive but it is still hard to imagine all that radioactive material festering away inside.

          Liked by 1 person

           
      • Lucy

        14/02/2017 at 21:44

        Ha! Yeah, he’s a barrel of laughs. I think it was 60s-70s American TV shows that made me worry, and the end of the Cold War, which I just about remember. Also, we were pretty late in getting a house phone, probably about 1981, when I was about five, and it scared me a bit that people could ring with bad news and disaster find me even when the TV was off. I should probably be telling this to a therapist…I’m now thinking this is why my phone is usually on silent 😉

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        • Ste J

          22/02/2017 at 11:46

          My rates are cheaper. I avoid phone calls wherever possible too, I justify that with the idea that I enjoy reading and texts encourage that but really I just don’t enjoy chatting to people I can’t see.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  4. gargoylebruce

    13/02/2017 at 20:59

    Wowsers! Sounds awesome. Adding it to my TBR.

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  5. clarepooley33

    13/02/2017 at 23:04

    Thanks for reminding me about this book SteJ. I remember it winning the prize and thought at the time that I should read it but I’m afraid I forgot about it! I remember the shock when we heard on the news about the explosion – it was so frightening, not knowing what would happen next.

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    • Ste J

      14/02/2017 at 15:29

      The repercussions could have been a lot worse globally that they were as well, it is amazing to think it wasn’t really that long ago either. Although great, I did have one miserable feeling day which I attribute to the book’s contents.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • clarepooley33

        14/02/2017 at 21:14

        I can well imagine you must have been badly affected by the book. It’s horrifying that something so terrible could have happened and that the authorities tried to hush it up. There is still such suffering and there is so little that can be done to improve the situation. Very depressing.

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  6. Resa

    14/02/2017 at 01:55

    I’ve read a lot about, and seen many a documentary about this wildly hideous happening.
    I doubt I will ever read this book, because of all I have already gleaned.
    However, I saw a docu about the wildlife recovery in the area, and how it is flourishing without human intervention.

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    • Ste J

      14/02/2017 at 15:52

      It is amazing how much can thrive not only when we leave it alone but how it can do so within that radioactive zone. Locals were talking about worms and bees and such knowing something had gone terribly wrong. That is a whole fascinating field in itself.

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  7. Jilanne Hoffmann

    14/02/2017 at 06:25

    I bought this for my husband a year ago for Christmas. It’s called Voices from Chernobyl in the U.S. We’ve both read it. Chilling, but important. Once you start reading, it’s really difficult to turn away from the tragedy.

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    • Ste J

      14/02/2017 at 15:15

      It is, I had often heard of it, seen the drone videos and such but those accounts from the people there is something else indeed. It’s one of those books you wish everybody could read, especially those involved in choices to do with anything nuclear, the terrible consequences are an eye opener to say the least.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Jilanne Hoffmann

        14/02/2017 at 17:38

        Yes, and those people shall remain nameless. I am struggling to keep my chin up in this toxic atmosphere. Perhaps I should spend more time in a pub….

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  8. Bumba

    14/02/2017 at 07:06

    A Fine review on an important topic. We often forget the past, its a reminder of the need to study history in order to avoid repeating it – not to mention yesterday’s lunch.

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    • Ste J

      14/02/2017 at 15:35

      Most certainly sirrah! The Fukushima incident was a timely reminder of the perils of the nuclear. It was also a good excuse for the news to patronise us with little models of the reactors safety features because we are all too dumb to follow a spoken explanation of course.

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      • Bumba

        14/02/2017 at 18:56

        Yes, and the proposals for more nuclear plants are being reconsidered lately. My mother used to say “Better safe than sorry”.

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        • Ste J

          22/02/2017 at 09:23

          Over here it seems like we are in a race to get some built or their may be rolling blackouts in the next ten or so years. Naturally the government will cut corners so anything could happen.

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  9. Alastair Savage

    14/02/2017 at 07:36

    The thing that horrifies me about Chernobyl was that it was an experiment that went wrong, a completely unnecessary test that spiralled out of control. Truly terrifying.

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    • Ste J

      14/02/2017 at 15:42

      Those to pick up the pieces were all innocent people of course and those held to account were scapegoats. Funny how nothing changes…

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Asha Seth

    14/02/2017 at 09:09

    This looks like a tough book to get on with, John.

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    • Ste J

      14/02/2017 at 14:51

      It was, it never got any less tragic as it went on, everything kept piling up but I stuck with it was well worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Asha Seth

        17/02/2017 at 05:54

        That’s the sign of a true reader. And I’m stuck around with HP at the moment. I’m at the last book in the series now. It feels sad that it’ll soon be over.

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        • Ste J

          22/02/2017 at 09:31

          There’s always that play that everybody was going on about…it’s always a shame when a series comes to an end but all those new stories you will be finding more than makes up for it!

          Liked by 1 person

           
  11. shadowoperator

    14/02/2017 at 16:21

    As always, I’m impressed by the variety and seriousness of the works you read and review, Ste. J. This sounds as if it was a very grim read, and I appreciate your endeavor in bringing it to everyone’s attention.

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    • Ste J

      22/02/2017 at 09:26

      Ah my friend, I was prepared for a bit of grim but what I got was a whole lot more. It will stay with me for a long time. I have another unexpected work I will be featuring soon, I have lots of post ideas now fully stacked up and they need writing sooner rather than later.

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  12. Marjorie

    14/02/2017 at 18:32

    Thank you for such an in depth review of this book. It must have been a very tough book to read but I agree that it’s a must read for all. Things like this should never be forgotten. The video was absolutely chilling.

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    • Ste J

      22/02/2017 at 11:53

      Thanks for reading, it is good to challenge ourselves when the opportunity arises and I am all about pushing myself bookwise. The tragedy gives a much deeper understanding of the world around us and the progression we make in such technologies.

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  13. Lyn

    15/02/2017 at 04:57

    The effects of Chernobyl are ongoing even now. It’s impossible to tell how many babies will be born in the future with disabilities – one of which is what they call “Chernobyl Heart.” Only 3% of the reactor’s lethal material was expelled in the initial accident in 1986, leaving 97% within the unstable sarcophagus. It remains a “ticking time bomb”. God help us if it ever goes.

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    • Ste J

      22/02/2017 at 11:20

      It really is crazy to think that this is still a thing, not newsworthy among all the clickbait of the internet though. Only time will be able to unravel the full effects of the disaster, I doubt those of us alive today will ever know the full extent of what will come to pass over this incident.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  14. Al

    20/02/2017 at 10:29

    “50,000 people used to live here. Now it’s a ghost town”. A line from a Call of Duty game where you get to walk through the desolate Pripyat. Having “witnessed” the area, I can only imagine how moving this book is.

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    • Ste J

      22/02/2017 at 09:40

      I admit I powered through this one, I knew if I stopped to have a break and read another book it would be difficult to come back to and read in its entirety. I’ve never played a Call of Duty game, Stardew Valley is where I’m at these days!

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Al

        22/02/2017 at 15:10

        I haven’t played a CoD game in a fair while. I am not good at shooters. Or anything else for that matter lol. I exist to make up the numbers hehe.

        I don’t think I would be able to read that one as I would find it too heartbreaking.

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        • Ste J

          23/02/2017 at 11:10

          I hear you on that, give me a calmer game and I am happier. The book is heartbreaking, especially the voices of the children. It does put life into perspective though.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  15. Aquileana

    22/02/2017 at 18:42

    A wonderful reading. There are still nuclear cities, most of them in the former USSR, I have recently watched a documentary about that on Netflix. What has happened in Chernobyl was awful. Most times its effects could be just compared to Hiroshima, I think.
    Thanks flor sharing that clip too, unbelievable 🚀⚡️ Sending all my best wishes, dear Ste

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    • Ste J

      23/02/2017 at 11:28

      It was interesting that Soviet peoples saw nuclear was as Hiroshima and Nagasaki but nuclear power as light bulbs. It is strange how we convince ourselves of things. I’ll head onto Netflix and chec out the documentaries, it’s been a while since I’ve been on.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Aquileana

        23/02/2017 at 19:56

        “City 40” was the documentary I watched on Netflix… I couldn´t recall the title but just found it on Google… 😀 Have a great day dear Ste!

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        • Ste J

          24/02/2017 at 13:20

          Thank you my friend, I will search it out soon…have a great weekend yourself!

          Liked by 1 person

           
  16. Chelsea Brown

    25/02/2017 at 17:15

    I think you’re correct, books like this should be categorized as a must read. Especially when considering, there are still so many plants worldwide that are in operation. I wish that we could stop using nuclear plants as an energy source, they’re so dangerous on so many levels. The footage from the drone was fascinating to see, but also very, very sad.

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    • Ste J

      27/02/2017 at 15:02

      The only really viable to nuclear plants is renewable energy but there isn’t much of a market for that whilst the people who makes their billions from fossil fuels lobby governments to keep them buying the finite fuel. The footage and book are great and really tell a moving story, it would be great to see them in school in form or other.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Chelsea Brown

        29/03/2017 at 02:31

        You gotta love big business. The only thing they care about is getting money into the pockets, and screw the rest of the world.
        At least books like this keeps us fighting for better ways to aid humanity as well as the planet.

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        • Ste J

          29/03/2017 at 17:08

          There are so many powerfully argued books out there, sadly a lot of people don’t seem to be able to sit and read. This was a struggle to read through the detail but well worth it in the end. You would think the mercenary actions of such businesses would be reined in at the very least but sadly not.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  17. The Book Haven

    17/04/2017 at 19:05

    I work in a project where the client is a nuclear company in the UK and they tell us how nervous people feel about nuclear power plants. Of course, I may not be able to comprehend the magnitude of Chernobyl disaster but yes, it books like these do make a deep impression on the reader.

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    • Ste J

      16/05/2017 at 16:34

      Chernobyl made an impression and the recent goings on with Fukushima haven’t helped, not to mention Britain’s very own Windscale Fire and numerous TV shows about the effects. People always go to that ‘what if’ place, despite all the safety measures in place, if house prices were cheap enough, I’d probably chance it despite reading Chernobyl Prayer, on reflection and probably forgetting the most harrowing bits of the book.

      Like

       

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