Like Thomas Merton’s nuclear weapon poems composed entirely of newspaper quotes, the book works by accretion and irrefutability of the media evidence. The story of the three sisters is helpful – more helpful for non-Russians, who desire to know what the Russians really think (and how) of the Chernobyl accident – yet the story does not tell us anything deeper. How deep do we want to go? Recognisable types, individuals, caught off-guard by the disaster everyone has secretly known was “a matter of time” and which, when it happened, would be “a sign of the times.” The story is there to help the reader reassess the large segments of Pravda &c. quotes set between each chapter, and it is those which anyone literate in the disaster will find more disturbing than the story itself. The dialogue is shoddy (the translator?) yet the force of circumstance around which it revolves gives it an excuse. The conversation at the expense of the Party sounds like a genre unique to the modern Russian condition: imagine what it must be like when the samizdat get satirical. All the time, too. We think of ‘Stalker’ (Andrei Tarkovsky), the three men going into The Zone, and what to find? Although this book has none of the hypnotic character of that film, we can hear the click-click of the train carrier moving inexorably into the unknown as each page is turned.
Entry in Notebooks, 16th July 1989