Voices From Chernobyl, Svetlana Alexievich, Picador, 2006, 236 pp (translated from the Russian by Keith Gessen)
Summary from Goodreads: On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occurred in Chernobyl and contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Voices from Chernobyl is the first book to present personal accounts of the tragedy. Journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown---from innocent citizens to firefighters to those called in to clean up the disaster---and their stories reveal the fear, anger, and uncertainty with which they still live. Comprised of interviews in monologue form, Voices from Chernobyl is a crucially important work, unforgettable in its emotional power and honesty.
The first non-fiction author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is also the first Ukrainian female writer to win this prize. Svetlana Alexievich began her career as a journalist but turned to creating books based on collages of interviews with people who have lived through catastrophe. After winning numerous awards, she received her Nobel Prize in 2015.
The subtitle of this book is The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. I have always been opposed to the proliferation and use of atomic weapons, but I had thought that nuclear energy might be a good alternative to petroleum based sources. Reading Voices From Chernobyl has pretty much disabused me of that idea.
Alexievich's interviews with the eyewitnesses, firefighters, cleanup team members, physicians, physicists, and ordinary people about the explosions at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power reactor in 1986 and the aftermath, combine to create an explosion of loss, destruction, and long term effects. It is almost unbelievable and extremely hard to read about what those people experienced at the time. She also gives a clear picture of the long term legacy of cancer and birth defects that is still ongoing. Several women sob as they say, "It is a sin to have children."
If you can stand to read this book I highly recommend it. You will get details and viewpoints never seen in any news reports. The governments of the world can be counted on to downplay such events.
I am now convinced that homo sapiens is not responsible enough as a species to handle nuclear power. Should we evolve as a species to a point where we are immune to radioactivity, I wonder if we would even be the same species. Most dangerous of all is ignorance.
I read the book for discussion with The Tiny Book Club. We did so, long and deeply a couple weeks ago. Last night we met again at my house to watch the documentary "Radioactive Wolves" and learned that the indigenous plant and animal life in the "Zone," the vast contaminated area around Chernobyl, appears to be unaffected by the radiation and is in fact thriving. The area is returning to the wild country it was before the Soviets "developed" it for farming and the power plant. Thought provoking and grounds for more discussion!
(Voices From Chernobyl is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)