Stalking the Atomic City: Life Among the Decadent and the Depraved of Chornobyl

Markiyan Kamysh, trans. from the Ukrainian by Hanna Leliv and Reilly Costigan-Humes. Astra, $22 (160p) ISBN 978-1-66260-127-9

Ukrainian novelist Kamysh makes his English-language debut with this evocative portrait of Chornobyl’s Exclusion Zone, the 1,000-square-mile site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, and the “illegal tourists” who explore it for days and weeks at a time. Mixing travelogue and reportage, Kamysh, whose father helped clear the site of contaminated debris, finds a stark metaphor for post-Soviet depravity in the derelict world he explores. He describes hiking 20 miles through waist-deep snow to climb 500-foot radar antennae; sleeping in an abandoned building near the rotting corpse of a wolf; being ambushed by police; and his “radiation fetishism” for contaminated graphite rods and “still glowing” liquidator’s helmets. He also makes bitter fun of “rich girls” who map “every nook of the terra incognita on Instagram” and foreigners who dress for January snowdrifts “in proper autumn camo with anti-mosquito mesh,” and draws vivid character sketches of squatters and looters such as Kolia America, who races around at night on a scooter looking for scrap metal. Though some of Kamysh’s stylistic mannerisms grate, he captures the zone’s strange mix of beauty and bleakness with precision. It’s a captivating study of “the most exotic place on Earth.” Photos. (Apr.)
PW EDITORS’ PICKS FOR
THE BEST NEW BOOKS
PW EDITORS’ PICKS FOR THE BEST NEW BOOKS