It was very strange to be reading this book (in March) during the war in Ukraine, as it was originally published in 2015 and shows a way of life which may never be the same again.
I would classify the book as a memoir but it’s quite a secretive one. The author is an ‘illegal tourist’ in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (the Ukrainian spelling ‘Chornobyl’ is used here) and has explored the area more than a thousand times, occasionally getting caught by the police. He seems unconcerned about the radiation and is more afraid of being injured by aggressive looters or wild animals. Quite often he’ll bring friends or other tourists to the area, where they trudge through bogs or snow, break up furniture for firewood, smoke a lot of cigarettes, drink a lot of alcohol and sleep on bare floors. Throughout the book, he tries to work out why he always returns. It’s a contrast to life in the city (not mentioned by name but might be Kyiv). The emptiness of the area and the unconventional people who are drawn to it are a kind of therapy, I think.
The translation by Hanna Leliv and Reilly Costigan-Humes is in American English and occasionally the expressions didn’t quite make sense to me. The writing was certainly evocative and should appeal to anyone with an interest in urban exploration. Several images are included, which are bleak, yet elegant in a way. There wasn’t as much narrative description as you might expect. It’s more about preparations, actions and feelings.
Thank you to the publisher Pushkin Press for the advance copy via NetGalley. The book will be published on 7th July.