Review: Voices from Chernobyl

March 13, 2016 History, non-fiction 26 ★★★★★

Review: Voices from ChernobylTitle: Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
Author: Svetlana Alexievich, Keith Gessen
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: This was an incredible, heartbreaking account.

Since I’ve been trying to read more translated books, I immediately added Voices of Chernobyl to my to-read list when author Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize last year. This is a collection of interviews with survivors of the Chernobyl disaster, relatives of survivors, and the many individuals involved in the reaction to the disaster.

It was incredible to hear true accounts of such a well known historical event, but also completely heartbreaking. The stories I found the most emotional were those of relatives of the survivors, although the most shocking thing I learned was that many refugees live in the region close to Chernobyl, choosing the invisible danger of radiation over the war torn regions they’re fleeing. There are also some tough stories about pets that are killed for fear that they’re contaminated, but there is a warning in the introduction if you want to skip the interview focused on this aspect of the disaster.

The writing, which is to say the language used by the people interviewed, is beautiful and moving. I can’t imagine myself having anything like their eloquence in an interview. I appreciated the organization of the book, which generally felt as though it was moving forward in time. I feel a little weird assigning a star rating to this book, largely because it feels strange to evaluate people’s stories told in their own words in the same way I’d evaluate something constructed more artificially by an author. However, I am going to give this the five stars I think it deserves, both because it seems the author did put a lot of effort into getting people to tell the stories in this book and because I think this is such an invaluable historical document that I’d recommend it to everyone.

Read the Nobels 2016

26 Responses to “Review: Voices from Chernobyl”

    • DoingDewey

      Sure! I’m not sure I’ll read any more nobel prize winning books, but I’m happy to add a link back to your challenge here and I’ll share it on twitter with the hashtag too 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      Great! I was excited to find a translated book that I knew I had to read. I typically have to work a lot harder at finding translated books than I did with this one!

  1. Heather

    This is one of those super important reads that I know I have to get to at some point. But I’ll probably skip the chapter about pets… I have this thing with animals being killed in books. I don’t deal with it well.

    • DoingDewey

      I was able to read most of the chapter about pets, partly I think because it was at least as difficult to read about the people experiencing radiation poisoning and partly because it was not detailed. There was one part where it looked like it was going to get too detailed though and so I skimmed by it. It’s definitely something I avoid in general though, especially in fiction. It’s both so sad and so emotionally manipulative!

    • DoingDewey

      I loved All That is Solid Melts Into Air and I think that’s part of what made me bump this up my to-read list. It was pretty heartbreaking, but well worth the read.

  2. Rachel

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! I, too, added this book to my list when she won the Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, it’s not available on audiobook, and I do most of my nonfiction reading by audio – simply because I get so tired physically reading textbooks that I want something light to physically read in my me-time.

    • DoingDewey

      That makes sense! My audiobooks tend to be genres I mostly don’t make time for otherwise, which has meant sci-fi and fantasy in the last few years. Hopefully winning the Nobel will give this enough visibility that an audio version will become available.

  3. Andi

    Ok, that’s it. I need this one. I’m completely fascinated with Chernobyl and this sounds excellent.

  4. Jenny @ Reading the End

    Oh gosh, I’m glad you reminded me about this book. I’ve been reading tons and tons of nonfiction this year, and I especially want to read more translated nonfiction in the future. This fits the bill perfectly, plus will teach me more things about Chernobyl, which I am woefully underinformed on.

    • DoingDewey

      I’d really like to read more translated nonfiction too! I find that I have to work at finding translated fiction and finding translated nonfiction seems to be even harder.

  5. Lindsey

    Wow, this sounds really good. I was actually just reading through the Nobel prize winners with my dad and we were lamenting how few of them we had read!

    • DoingDewey

      I’ve not read nearly enough either! I’ll be joining in on the Read the Nobel challenge from Aloi at Guiltless Reading this year, at least to share this review, but in future years, I might make an effort to read more.

  6. Amanda

    Oh man. There are a few things I just can’t bring myself to read about. The fallout from the nuclear bombs is one of them. Kudos to you for being able to go there on our behalf.

    • DoingDewey

      I have some topics I can’t bring myself to read about too! This is a tough one, but I was able to get through it. Stories about rape or child abuse I’ll pass on every time, although I am pushing myself out of my comfort zone on that for the Missoula read-along I’m hosting. I’m not sure I’m glad I did though! I didn’t feel like I learned anything actionable, so I’m not sure it was worth reading about such a tough topic when I already new the situation was pretty bad.

  7. Julianne @ Outlandish Lit

    Holy shit, this sounds amazing. I struggle with nonfiction, but hearing stories from these people’s lives sounds v readable for me. Also it’s pretty cool that they put a warning in about the animals. I mean I’d still read those parts (despite crying easily re: animals), but it’s nice to know that they care haha.

    • DoingDewey

      You know, I could see this being one you’d really enjoy. I don’t have a concrete reason for thinking that, just a feeling based on reading your reviews 🙂

  8. Stacy

    Ok, adding it to my list. You’ve sold me. Thank you for making the recommendation for my Nobels read and encouraging me to give it a go. I’ll let you know how I hold up!

  9. Masanobu

    Glad to know it was so good. I’ve got War’s Unwomanly Face on my TBR (it was a Christmas gift) and I really want to read it soon. I’ll probably go and buy Voices from Chernobyl afterwards.

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