Expected publication: November 1st 2019
I was a kid when we heard about the Chernobyl disaster. I remember it being on the news for weeks and then being the catalyst for a number of apocalyptic-style TV programmes, warning us about the disastrous prospect of a nuclear winter. Over the years I’ve read lots about it, had friends who have gone to the Ukraine to visit the site of the disaster, and more recently, was hooked on the popular Chernobyl miniseries produced by HBO & Sky.
So, when I got the chance to read this book I was, to say the least, excited.
Katya Cengel is a journalist and back in the 90s, she decided to ride the wave of young writers who went East in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and took a job at the Baltic Times.
In this book, she tells us about her adventures; the long, lonely, freezing cold nights, frequently with no running water or heating, apartments with walls missing and desperately trying to keep warm with ‘hot water bottles’ fashioned from Pepsi bottles. She is, understandably unhappy – seems to hate it there, but keeps at it. She makes friends and has relationships with some wholly unsuitable men. I’m not really sure why she stays. Over time her health begins to suffer and only when she is scarily close to death with an undiagnosed condition, does she go home – only to return as soon as she’s feeling better. When she falls ill again, she has to rely on her boyfriend’s family to use their hard-saved cash to bribe the doctors into treating her. Katya just seems to be a bad fit for the life she’s chosen herself and if you’re familiar with the Pulp song ‘Common People’, it felt a bit like that for me. She was living in hard times in the Eastern bloc but she seems to not take on board the fact that she’s just a tourist really, the people who live there were born there, and have very little chance or opportunity to go and make a living elsewhere.
Also, I felt a bit cheated. The book is called ‘From Chernobyl with Love and there is very little Chernobyl actually in there.
I’m not saying this book is awful, far from it. I liked Katya, I liked her detailed and evocative descriptions of the Soviet bloc in the 90s, and I swear I could feel the cold when I read of her shivering in bed with no heat in the middle of a freezing winter– even though I was reading it on a Spanish sun lounger in 90 degree heat. However my biggest gripe was with the structure as I felt it didn’t flow very well and enjoyable as it was, it read more like a series of blog posts than a book.