Not a book for every reader. Interesting but not recommended for highly sensitive people.
In 23 past 1 AM, Dornan recounts the ramifications of the Chernobyl explosion through an imaginary family. An autobiography writer, Adam Byrd, is called to Kiev by an old girlfriend, Lena. Lena’s aunt, Tania, is sick and would like to give a first-hand account of the struggles her family faced back then and the horrors of the radiation poisoning.
The story begins when a 15-year-old Tania moves to Pripyat with her family, young brother, Roman, older sister, Mila, father, Anton, and mother, Tatiana. Five years later, a day before the explosion, Tania is set to marry Yuri. The family is happy, unaware of the tragedy to follow.
I didn’t know much about the Chernobyl disaster, but the fact that I did a bit more research on the subject made the novel more interesting to read, and I was more appreciative of the author’s ability to turn a tragic event into an almost horrific agreeable piece of writing. Dornan handcrafts an intensely chilling story combining fiction with elements of truth of the Chernobyl disaster. The story takes a deeper look into the events that led to the explosion and how it impacted individuals and their families. The interesting aspect of the book was how the government took significant measures to conceal how much damage the incident caused.
The part that caused me so much emotional pain and gnawed at me was when Anton, a technician at the plant was walking home with Yuri, tries to warn an old man to move further away from the scene of the incident. The military police had already covered base and told the people that there was no danger from the explosion. And furthermore, we learn that anyone who threatened to expose the truth was put in jail for at least eight years.
The extent on how far they would go to make sure that the truth never came out even in 2013, seventeen years later, is when Byrd and Lena’s tourist’s jaunt takes them to the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum, Evgeni, the Director of the Museum, states and asks Byrd not to put his name in the autobiography in fear of losing his job. Even if it is a nuclear menace that hides in plain sight, Evgeni is obligated to silence. The consequences of the catastrophe for people and the environment are further revealed by the interview Byrd has with former nuclear technicians who have multiple unexplainable health issues which could only be attributed to extenuating circumstances. We get to see the extra burdens faced by these men. Ivan, a forty-six-year-old, has bone sarcoma caused by radiation and has difficulty walking because his bones and feet have degenerated. He needs surgery and chemo, but the doctors have told him that he is thoroughly toxic. Ivan is one among many who have a story to tell.
A life of a promising young man lost, Roman dies at twelve, from an undisclosed diagnosis, after stabbing the lawless Markov in the groin for raping a minor girl, Galina. The author gives us a glimpse of the medical facilities in which the victims were held. Anton is incensed and questions the doctor as to why the radioactive piece of steel bedding would not be replaced with one that was not contaminated. Roman had been sleeping in radiation since he had arrived in hospital. His argument is returned with a reply of,
“Sir,you have been here for a week. You might as well be sleeping inside Reactor 4. What difference do you think a new bed will do?”
We only get a glimpse of Galina’s childhood in conversations she has with Roman and Mila. It is evident the girl has a mental illness and the abuse she endured elevated it. Markov used her to take care of his basic needs. If it is any consolation to anyone, the bad Markov unknowingly eats the dead body of Galina’s grandfather in a meal prepared by her. The lack of authority imposed by the government created a vacuum that allowed a sociopath like Markov to flourish without interference. Hence, the rape, violence, and thievery.
My eyes tore up when Yuri gave up his life to save more lives. He and Alex, his friend, volunteer to open the drain pools under the reactor to stop another explosion. It made me angry that the Major who had promised that their families would be taken care of and that they would be considered heroes, went back on his word. Yuri and Alex were no more than a single, solitary footnote in a story that precious few would never know.
Mila and Tania are arrested for exposing the truth to the media and a Savior comes in the form of Chris Langley, a Canadian lawyer. Their freedom gives them an opportunity to create a movement against the government. We know Mila ends up marrying Chris.
Published: July 29, 2016
Read an excerpt