ODD — Chernobyl — Stories?
(Instead of review)
Chernobyl — is — interesting.
Incredibly — odd.
Incredibly — enlightening.
Enlightening in purely personal sense — for any person contemplating about how to live. Because what is happening with a person in Chernobyl is a bared model of what has been and will be happening to the person — in the everyday, ‘normal’ life.
Another reason why it is so interesting, funny and important is the fact that the narrator is an experienced man — knowledgeable, skillful, humorous. He tells the story simple — just a bit of his life experience. The author, an ex-commander of a radiation reconnaissance platoon in Chernobyl, is a man with two university degrees (a Soviet and a ‘western’ ones), a traveler, a writer and
His book of Chernobyl stories is unique due to both its content and the way it is conveyed. The book transfers the Chernobyl Disaster — the event included in the list of the 300 most important milestones in the history of our civilization (where it adjoins two World Wars, the first step on the surface of the Moon, and the disintegration of the USSR) — into the general cultural and human context.
One should realize the degree of the uniqueness of the radiation reconnaissance platoon commander position and job: He is a lieutenant who is well in with the Zone Chief Military Headquarters (the Operative Group of the USSR Ministry of Defense), because he knows the radiation situation not merely from the map. He is
a mate for his platoon’s soldiers, because together they eat what is at hand, sleep in the armoured patrol vehicle, and — go to recce: to the core of the Zone — to the Nuclear Power Plant itself, or sometimes far beyond its borders — to the villages live and dead. And he stand on equal footing with a lot of other people: with officials and workers of different professions and ranks, with scientists, local inhabitants — all kinds of people he runs across during his work and trips in the Zone.
The author can be considered as a model expert witness — a qualified physicist-chemist who has seen Chernobyl in its geographical, social, human entirety. He is, indeed, an internationally recognized expert in the Chernobyl issues, who was, for example, invited to the European Parliament for the discussion of the prospective laws on radiation safety of the European Union.
However, it is not only the depth of the comprehension and the width of coverage of the event that makes the book of Odd Chernobyl Stories unique; it is to not less considerable extent the naturalness, elegance, mastery and strength of the narration. It is with simple well-weighed words and without sophisticated academic terminology that the book tells about most complex technical and biological matters — and about the subtlest and often very unusual feelings of human beings in that ‘defamiliarized’ world.
These ‘odd’ stories are very different. Different as for their mood, ranging from funny ones (sometimes so incredibly funny that the reader's perception is driven really ‘off scale’) — to the ones piercingly sad; from almost literally ‘cliff-hanging’ mini-thrillers — to epic serene sagas; from the melted ‘stream of consciousness’ in the head of Chernobyl insider's — to apparently unpretentious Chernobyl sketch.
They are different in their form: ‘regular’ stories, poetic miniatures, a novella, and just short (a couple of lines!) excerpts from the working notebook of the radiation reconnaissance platoon commander.
And very often — the shorter is the text — the more hitting it is in its expression of what is a disaster. And what is — a man.
The book of these stories strikes the reader with its polyphonia — and the integrity of one human’s voice.
They are not boring indeed, these Odd Chernobyl Stories.
Many significant phenomena-events of our civilisation are imprinted into its cultural — mass — experience not with academic compendiums (undoubtedly valuable) — but with sincere and bright books by the people who participated in the event, were really impressed with it — and realised their mission
of a chronicler. The books which coped with the challenge to express the acquired new knowledge, the new perceptions and emotions it brought — due to the obvious, irritating inadequacy of the old artistic techniques — with new, bright and piercing, unknown before, means. The means, whose power matches the scale of the event.
And if the Chernobyl Disaster become ‘a lucky event’ in this sense — this may quite happen because in 1986 it has made
a demobilised radiation reconnaissance platoon commander to set pen to paper.