Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Sky Unwashed

Just got done reading "The Sky Unwashed" by Irene Zabytko.

Amazon.com gives this synopsis:
inspired by the true story of villagers who defied the forced evacuation of their Ukrainian town after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the 1980s. The narrator is septuagenarian Marusia Petrenko, a hard-working grandmother who lives with Yurko, her only son; his wife, Zosia; and their two small children, Katia and Tarasyk, in a tiny house where only a thin curtain separates Marusia's quarters from the rest of the family's. Like many of the townspeople in Starylis, Zosia and Yurko work at the nuclear power plant in nearby Chernobyl. The drama begins one spring weekend in 1986, when several of the village's men do not return home from their shifts at the plant. One by one, the people of Starylis begin to notice a strange metallic taste in the air and to suffer from itchy, watery eyes. The official word is that there has been "a fire" at the plant, according to the militsiia who round up villagers for evacuation to Kiev. But in Kiev things are not much better. The Petrenko family is eventually separated: Marusia stays with Yurko, who is suffering from radiation sickness, and Zosia takes her children to Moscow in hopes of a better life. Over the months that follow, Marusia battles to reunite her family and to return to Starylis, which has been declared uninhabitable due to radiation. While readers may find the English transliterations of names in both Russian and Ukrainian a bit confusing (the city is Kiev on one page and Kyiv on the next, for example), this is a minor irritation in an otherwise quietly insightful novel about a indomitable individual defying the state in order to return to her home.

I'm generally not a big "normal" fiction reader. But, being fascinated by nuclear disaster and survival stories as well as true(ish) stories, this was a good, quick read that really gave some good insight into the lives of the people directly affected by the Chernobyl accident. And as far as nuclear-survival fan-girlness goes, this gave a nice picture of what it could be like to try to survive in a radiated land, albeit without protection.

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