I don’t understand it at all

Mike Jay

  • Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy
    Allen Lane, 404 pp, £20.00, May, ISBN 978 0 241 34902 1

‘When you look at it, it looks like any other piece of land. The sun shines on it like on any other part of the earth. And it’s as though nothing had particularly changed in it. Like everything was the way it was thirty years ago.’ This is the first description of the Zone, the enigmatic and forbidden locus of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s novel Roadside Picnic (1972), filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky as Stalker (1979). It’s an uncanny match with Serhii Plokhy’s first impression of Chernobyl as a tourist, thirty years after the explosion there in 1986. His young guide knows the site well enough, though the Soviet world of thirty years ago has faded from memory: she maintains that nobody can recall the identity of a figure portrayed on the wall of an abandoned movie theatre, whom Plokhy instantly recognises as Viktor Chebrikov, the head of the KGB from 1982 to 1988. Some of his companions in the tour group have come all the way from Britain to see Chernobyl precisely because of the parallels with the Zone: they are obsessed with the shooter-survival video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, in which the area is filled with radioactive mutants.

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