Today is the 20th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine. And in remembrance, I bring to you a special edition of Under the Covers, highlighting the book Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, which recently hit my desk with an incredibly depressing thud.
Written — or rather, collected — by journalist Svetlana Alexievich (and translated by Keith Gessen), Voices from Chernobyl presents personal accounts of the tragedy via monologues taken from hundreds of interviews conducted with people affected by the disaster. In various reviews accompanying the press materials, the monologues are described as “grim and grotesque,” “exquisite in their plain-spoken anguish,” and “collectively pack[ing] the punch of a surreal, never-ending nightmare.”
From an interview with Nikolai Kalugin, a father:
I took my daughter and my wife to the hospital. They had black spots all over their bodies. These spots would appear, then disappear. About the size of a five-kopek coin. But nothing hurt. They did some tests on them …
… My daughter was six years old. I’m putting her to bed, and she whispers in my ear: “Daddy, I want to live, I’m still little.”
It’s enough to break your heart. And after hundreds of interviews in the still-contaminated “Zone,” it was also enough to make Alexievich sick. She is still suffering from an immune deficiency she developed during her research.