Lucy Hughes-Hallett at The New Statesman:
This is not a book on Chernobyl,” writes Svetlana Alexievich, “but on the world of Chernobyl.” It is not about what happened on 26 April 1986, when a nuclear reactor exploded near the border between Ukraine and Belarus. It is about an epoch that will last, like the radioactive material inside the reactor’s leaking ruin, for tens of thousands of years. Alexievich writes that, before the accident, “War was the yardstick of horror”, but at Chernobyl “the history of disasters began”.
Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year for her powerful works of oral history, was born in Ukraine and grew up in Belarus. The explosion took place close to her home ground. At once, people began to ask her whether she was writing about it. Others rushed out books of reportage or polemic. She hesitated. What had happened was uncanny, beyond words. There was, she writes, “a moment of muteness”.
Gradually, over many years, she interviewed people whose lives had been affected by the blast. Many have since died. Her book – first published in Russian in 1997 and now issued in a new translation of a revised text – is made up of their testimonies.