24 June 2010

57. The Sky Unwashed

The Sky Unwashed - Irene Zabytko

This book was outstanding. It is the story of a Ukrainian widow, Marusia Petrenko and her family. They lived in the small village of Starylis near Chernobyl. The story is about their lives and the effects of the nuclear power plant disaster on the family and the lives of their friends.

Marusia lives in a small home in an agricultural village. Her son, Yurko, daughter-in-law, Zosia, and two grandchildren live in the same home. They live a simple life. She is a retired widow. Yurko and Zosia both work at the power plant. Yorko is at work the night of the explosion and does not come home for three days afterward.

The first part of the book is pre-disaster. It is meant to give you a feel for their way of life and to get to know the characters and the other townsfolk. The author did a fantastic job with this aspect of the book. Building the characters was done excellently.

The book does not dwell on the actual disaster at all. It does not take you to the plant and describe the problems there other than a brief moment when Zosia tried to go to work and turned back. The disaster is not what the story is meant to be about. It is about the effects of that catastrophe on the lives of these people.

Descriptions of the way the air changed, the taste and smell, were outstanding. They knew something was wrong days before they were told about the problem. The evacuation of the village and the time spent as refugees was heartwrenching. The problems this family encountered and the changes to all of them made me feel for them in ways I rarely have for any charachter in a book.

I want to write about the things that happened to these people, but I won't. I do not want to ruin the book for other readers. I recommend you read it when and if you find a copy.

Was this an exciting, edge of the seat kind of book? No. Was it full of surprises and unexpected plot? No. Did I learn more about the Chernobyl disaster? No. So, why recommend it? This story was about people and the effect on them and thier way of life when something beyond their control changed the world. That story was awesome.

I lived in a village much like Starylis is described. I lived thier for a month while adopting our daughter. The town was called Sakhnovshchina. The people led simple lives and it was centered around agriculture. This story took place in 1986 and the years following. My visit was in 2006. Twenty years later, but much of the way of life what was written about was still happening. The people were happy, but it was a hard life. I envied them in some ways. That experience changed my perspective. This book brought back many of those memories and for that I am thankful.

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