Paul's Corner: Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

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Svetlana Alexievich

I was as surprised as most with the Nobel jury’s selection of Russian journalist, Svetlana Alexievich as the new Nobel Laureate in Literature. I did remember, however, reading her terrifying, eerie Voices from Chernobyl in 1997 in its first American translation.  Alexievich’s technique was simple.  She went to Chernobyl and talked to many of the people who absorbed huge amounts of nuclear radiation from the largest nuclear reactor disaster in history.  It is raw testimony, some eloquent, some surprisingly simple.  Voices of people who stayed, many scarred physically and mentally, come off the page leaving the reader with the very real idea that nuclear accidents can happen anywhere.  Alexievich’s interviews point as closely to the truth of what happened as is possible. 

    Rereading the book now, brings alive the same strangeness, a little like a horror film.  It made me wonder what had happened to the interviewees in the years since Alexievich directed her earnest, compassionate questions in their direction.  Few Americans would have objected to awarding the Nobel Prize to Studs Terkel.  Svetlana has had darker, fowler smelling fish to fry than the jolly Terkel; and her few books deserve to be remembered as long as human beings need to be warned of the consequences of their hubris. 

Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.  16.00

Zinky Boys, a collection of interviews with Russian soldiers, who fought in Afghanistan, is also available in a 15.95 paperback. 

Murakami will have to wait. The Nobel judges should sleep well.