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Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (1997)

by Svetlana Alexievich

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,611628,070 (4.37)198
Voices From Chernobyl is the first book to present personal accounts of what happened on April 26, 1986, when the worst nuclear reactor accident in history contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Svetlana Alexievich--a journalist who now suffers from an immune deficiency developed while researching this book--interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown. Their narratives form a crucial document revealing how the government masked the event with deception and denial. Harrowing and unforgettable, Voices From Chernobyl bears witness to a tragedy and its aftermath in a book that is as unforgettable as it is essential.… (more)
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» See also 198 mentions

English (52)  Swedish (2)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (1)  Norwegian (1)  German (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
"And basically I found out that the frightening things in life happen quietly and naturally." - Zoya Bruk, environmental inspector

It's difficult to give praise to a book about such devastation, but it deserves praise nonetheless. Even in translation (from the original Russian), the accounts are rendered such that you, as a reader, feel you are sitting in each person's living room, listening to what they have to say about the events. Nearly every single section, fraught with a panoply of thought and emotion, moved me. Most striking, to me, were 2 things: (1) No one knew what radiation was--they were mystified by the presence of something they could not see or feel; and (2) so many people were so attached to their home that they stayed in the contaminated environs regardless of what they heard or saw. So many of the voices in this book echo the same intense identification with their soil and also the Party (Soviet Union Communist Party) that you get a glimpse of the Soviet character of the time. ( )
  chrisvia | Apr 29, 2021 |
dude fuck Chernobyl, fuck anyone who made people go and work there. but this book was incredible, so powerful, it feels like the life of someone being put down on paper, that life being the life of Chernobyl and its people. ( )
  jjeane | Apr 28, 2021 |
This one took me a while to get through, I think in part because it is not a novel, but rather a series of monologues. Spoken by individuals who lived the Chernobyl disaster zone at the time of the accident, as well as people who moved to the area after the incident, it was a chilling tale that felt like science fiction. I learned a lot - for example, I learned that refugees are moving to Chernobyl because it's practically abandoned and no one will kick them out. I learned more about what the effects of living in a radioactive zone. One eerie thing about this book is that in some ways I felt like I was reading about life during quarantine - we are not in an active war, but everything feels dangerous and people are still dying. There is a fear of going out and living life, but at the same time, life must be lived and sometimes we forget about what's going on in the larger scheme of things, and just have our own interactions with our community as if nothing ever happened.

It was the final line of the book that really gave me chills, though. The author was speaking about how many nuclear bombs and reactors exists around the world, and how technically this book is about history, but, she notes, "I felt like I was recording the future." ( )
  dafnab | Mar 4, 2021 |
a people's history of chernobyl ( )
  stravinsky | Dec 28, 2020 |
I avoided this book for quite a while after buying it, because I was sure that reading it would be intensely painful. It was.

This book opens with its most gut-wrenching oral history. I was reading this book outside and sobbing in my lawn chair. When I finally came back into the house I was a mess. This is a collection of oral histories, presented without comment or context, but arranged loosely according to time, different ways and types of people affected by Chernobyl, etc. I kept thinking I wished I had watched the new documentary first, or had more context going in, but of course it isn't necessary, as these are the stories of people who lived through it -- most of whom were never told what was really going on, but had to piece things together over months and years.

Yes, an intensely painful read at times, but also an incredible work that I'm grateful we have. ( )
  greeniezona | Nov 14, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Svetlana Alexievichprimary authorall editionscalculated
Björkegren, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gessen, KeithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tait, ArchTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
We are air: we are not earth

Merab Mamardashvili
Dedication
First words
(Prologue) I don't know what I should talk about -about death or about love?
On 26 April 1986, at 01:23 hours and 58 seconds, a series of blasts brought down Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, near the Belarusian border. (some historical background)
I don't know what to tell you about. (A lone human voice)
From materials published in Belarusian newspapers in 2005
… Kiev travel agency offers tourist trips to Chernobyl (In place of an epilogue)
Quotations
Don't write about the wonders of Soviet heroism. They existed—and they really were wonders. But first there had to be incompetence, negligence, and only after those did you get wonders: covering the embrasure, throwing yourself in front of a machine gun. But that those orders should never have been, that there shouldn't have been any need, no one writes about that. They flung us there, like sand onto the reactor. Every day they'd put out a new "Action Update": "men are working courageously and selflessly," "we will survive and triumph."

They gave me a medal and one thousand rubles.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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Wikipedia in English (3)

Voices From Chernobyl is the first book to present personal accounts of what happened on April 26, 1986, when the worst nuclear reactor accident in history contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Svetlana Alexievich--a journalist who now suffers from an immune deficiency developed while researching this book--interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown. Their narratives form a crucial document revealing how the government masked the event with deception and denial. Harrowing and unforgettable, Voices From Chernobyl bears witness to a tragedy and its aftermath in a book that is as unforgettable as it is essential.

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Book description
"Le 26 avril 1986, à 1 h 23, une série d'expolsions détruisit le réacteur et le bâtiment de la quatrième tranche de la centrale nucléaire de Tchernobyl; Cet accident est devenu la plus grande catastrophe technologique du XXème siècle".
The devastating history of the Chernobyl disaster by Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the Nobel prize in literature 2015

- A new translation by Anna Gunin and Arch Tait based on the updated and expanded text -

On 26 April 1986, at 1.23am, a series of explosions shook the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Flames lit up the sky and radiation escaped to contaminate the land and poison the people for years to come. While officials tried to hush up the accident, Svetlana Alexievich spent years collecting testimonies from survivors - clean-up workers, residents, firefighters, resettlers, widows, orphans - crafting their voices into a haunting oral history of fear, anger and uncertainty, but also dark humour and love. A chronicle of the past and a warning for our nuclear future, Chernobyl Prayer shows what it is like to bear witness, and remember in a world that wants you to forget. [Amazon.co.uk]
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