Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

“The Sky Unwashed” by Irene Zabytko

Algonquin Books, 2000

  This didn’t have the fast-paced feel of today’s traditional novel. I realize the characters, their lives and their stories had to have been invented, at least partly, still, I thought of this narrative more like a non-fictional account of the Chernobyl nuclear accident and its harrowing surreal aftermath for the people who worked and lived near the plant at the time of the disaster. I don’t know how much of it was authentic to how things really happened, but from the little snippets of information I do know about the event, I suspect much of what I read in this book was real. Besides, it sounded too crazy to be an invention. There isn’t necessarily a big narrative thrust to propel the reader through the book, but as I read, my own personal (and morbid) fascination pulled me through in one night. 

As a kid, I lived not far away from Chernobyl, in my native Ukrainian city, at the time of the accident. I remember the teachers telling us to cover our heads and keep our windows closed in the months after the accident – I remember us not listening at all. I also have these mysterious headaches even now, which no doctors could have ever explained. There is no other novel out there on the subject as far as I know — just this out-of-print book.

Today, I am inexplicably drawn to this blemish of history that still remains relatively obscure. If you are tempted to pick it up, know that you will learn a lot — maybe more than you’d like to.  😦

Just be forewarned: this is no easy read.




September 14, 2010 - Posted by | Book Impressions, Contemporary History


  1. You introduce me to interesting books. I remember the accident on the news and how it was a huge story. I was young at the time, but thought it was something dark and sinister.

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | September 15, 2010 | Reply

    • Let’s see, 1986 — I was nine years old. Funny, I lived practically next door, but it was NOT huge news in our city. Not until a few weeks later, when the word leaked out and the government had no choice but to spill the beans.

      Comment by Katia Raina | September 15, 2010 | Reply

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