Voices from Chernobyl is an oral history of the atomic disaster and its aftermath, by Svetlana Alexievich,the first journalist to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Steinbeck maybe? But he didn’t win on his journalism.)
Nina Konstantinovnva, a literature teacher:
I teach Russian literature to kids who are not like the kids I taught ten years ago. They are constantly seeing someone or something get buried, get placed underground. Houses and trees, everything gets buried. If they stand in line for fifteen, twenty minutes, some of them start fainting, their noses bleed. You can’t surprise them with anything and you can’t make them happy. They’re always tired and sleepy. Their faces are pale and gray. They don’t play and they don’t fool around. If they fight or accidentally break a window, the teachers are pleased. We don’t yell at them, because they’re not like kids. And they’re growing so slowly. You ask them to repeat something during a lesson, and the child can’t, it gets to the point where you simply ask him to repeat a sentence, and he can’t. You want to ask him, “Where are you? Where?”
Major Oleg Pavlov, a helicopter pilot:
Every April 26 we get together, the guys who were there. We remember how it was. You were a soldier, at war, you were necessary. We forget the bad parts and remember that. We remember that they couldn’t have made it without us. Our system, it’s a military system, essentially, and it works great in emergencies. You’re finally free there, and necessary. Freedom! And in those times the Russian shows how great he is. How unique. We’ll never be Dutch or German. And we’ll never have proper asphalt or manicured lawns. But there’ll always be plenty of heroes.
Translated by Keith Gessen.