Book Review: Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Explosion

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Explosion is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the tragedy of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant explosion in 1986 from the perspective of those who suffered the greatest. Author Svetlana Alexievich traveled around Russia in the regions close to Chernobyl and gathered the stories of those who worked there, residents of the neighboring towns, and family members of the first responders. It is both tragic and enlightening.

The book starts with the story of the wife of a firefighter who was in the first group responding to the explosion, a gut-wrenching tale of how unprepared they were heading into Chernobyl and the tragic death by radiation that eventually killed them all. The gravity of the situation is palpable in her words as she recalls how she sneaked into the ward where her husband lay dying, and how she cared for him every day, even though she was pregnant and his radiation exposure made him toxic. Hers is only one story of many of how this tragedy rippled through Russia and exposed the harsh truth about the government’s blatant attempt to cover it up.

Each story tells a different angle of the tragedy. Alexievich is barely visible in the book as she lets the people share how Chernobyl affected them, and the country as a whole. Although difficult to stomach at times, Voices from Chernobyl is something everyone should read. I kept trying to put it down, the stories too heart wrenching and raw, but I felt it was my duty to read every word to honor the lives lost and affected by this tragedy. If you are only vaguely aware of what happened in Chernobyl, read this book for the truth behind the explosion, and the reality of the aftermath. Within these pages and these stories the truth is laid bare. In 2015 Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her dedication to telling the oral histories of the people of Russia.

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