Author: Svetlana Alexievich, Keith Gessen
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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put a lot of effort into getting people to tell the stories in this book and because I think this is such an invaluable historical document that I’d recommend it to everyone.