Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future - Svetlana Alexievich, Anna Gunin, Arch Tait

I went into the Zone from the very beginning. I remember stopping in a village being struck by the silence. No birds, nothing. You walk down a street … silence. Well, of course, I knew all the cottages were lifeless, that there were no people because they had all left, but everything around had fallen silent. Not a single bird. It was the first time I had ever seen a land without birds, without mosquitoes. Nothing flying in the air.

 

Chernobyl Prayer consists of monologues from people, who in one way or another has been affected by Chernobyl. People, who have been evacuated from their hometowns. Clean up workers. People, who have returned to their contaminated home stead. Children, who are suffering from various diseases. Scientists, who know what to do, but doesn´t stand a chance against the decisions made by the government.

 

I guess I don´t have to mention that a lot of these voices have died by now. This book is such a powerful, heartbreaking, agonising, infuriating and maddening read and it gives you an insight into the mindset of the Soviet people and their dependence on the state back then. It´s hard to grasp what has happened back then. This book provides a look into the lives of the people, who have been affected by this disaster.

 

It´s one of the best books I have ever read and I will let a few quotes speak for themselves:

 

The fear didn´t set in for a long time: for almost a month everyone was on tenterhooks, waiting for them to announce that, under the leadership of the Communist party, our scientists, our heroic firemen our soldiers have once again conquered the elements. […] From all the textbooks and other books we´d read, in our minds we pictured the world as follows: military nuclear power was a sinister mushroom, cloud billowing up into the sky, like at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, incinerating people instantly; whereas peaceful nuclear energy was a harmless light bulb.

 

People are always comparing it to the war. War, though, you can understand. My father told me about the war, and I´ve read books about it. But this? All that is left of our village is three graveyards: one has people lying in it, the old graveyard; the second has all the cats and dogs we left behind, which were shot; the third has our homes.

They buried even our houses.

 

And just a few people could kill us. Not maniacs and criminals with a terrorist plan in their heads, just ordinary operators on duty that day at an atomic power station. They were probably quite decent men.

 

We told all these jokes. They send an American robot up to work on the roof. It operates for five minutes, then breaks down. Then a Japanese robot lasts nine minutes before it breaks down too. The Russian robot works for two hours, then, over the walkie-talkie, “Okay, Private Ivanov, you can come down now for a cigarette break.” Ha Ha!

 

What was needed was potassium iodide, standard iodine. Two or three drops in a half glass of fruit jelly for children, and three to four drops for adults. The reactor was burning for ten days, and for ten days the people should have been taking that.

 

Book themes for World Peace Day: Read a book by or about a Nobel Peace Prize winner, or about a protagonist (fictional or nonfictional) who has a reputation as a peacemaker.

 

Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in 2015.