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Bernadette Richard walks in the scent of Chernobyl

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An initial scene, one of the strongest in the book, immediately turns into a nightmare. She tells how a grandmother, alerted by an explosion then “the reflections of a gigantic fire lit in the distance”, wakes up in the middle of the night her two grandchildren, as well as a child from a neighboring family, installs them in sa Lada and starts up. The car soon skirts the edge of the blaze caused by the explosion of a reactor, in a suffocating heat to the point of melting the windshield wipers, then rushes to Kiev.

Built around these four survivors – the energetic and tender babushka, the small and fragile Katya, 7 years old at the time of the nuclear accident, her elder Zhénia, 12 years old, and Orest, their young neighbor and friend – the novel speaks also much of mourning and despair than of resilience. Everything is told through the gaze and memory of the eldest, Zhénia, who, in a controlled movement back to the places of his childhood, will become one of the stalkers of the exclusion zone.

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