Friday, May 25, 2018

Serhii Plokhy's "Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe"

Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University. A three-time recipient of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies prize, he is the author of Yalta: The Price of Peace, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, and The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine.

Plokhy applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe, and reported the following:
Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe is the first comprehensive history of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster from the explosion of the reactor no. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant on the morning of April 26, 1986 to the construction of the new shelter over the damaged reactor in 2018. The book tells the stories of the firefighters, scientists, engineers, workers, soldiers, and policemen who found themselves caught in a nuclear Armageddon and succeeded in doing the seemingly impossible: extinguishing the nuclear inferno and putting the reactor to sleep. Below is an excerpt from the story told on page 99 of the book: two firefighters meet each other on the fateful night of April 26 near the damaged reactor. One of them is Hryhorii Khmel, the driver of a firetruck, another--his son, a young lieutenant Petro Khmel.
Hryhorii Khmel spent most of the night near the walls of the turbine hall.... He had no doubt that Petro would be called as well. Around 7:00 a.m., when Hryhorii and his fellow firefighters were ordered to leave their positions and potassium iodide was administered to them, he began asking people whether they had seen Petro. The answer was no. Then someone said: “Petro Khmel was taken there as a substitute.” Hryhorii’s heart sank. “There” meant the damaged reactor. “I thought it was all over, finished,” he recalled later.

Hryhorii was told to surrender all his clothing and take a shower. Only after that did he see his son. “I went out onto the street, looked around—it was light, and everything was visible—and saw my Petro coming in uniform, with a coat on, a fire belt, a cap, and leather boots.” “Are you here, Father?” Petro asked his dad before being taken away for decontamination. Hryhorii must have felt like Nikolai Gogol’s Taras Bulba at the execution of his son Ostap, who shouted into the crowd, “Father, where are you? Do you hear me?” before he was put to death. Hryhorii refused to leave the premises and waited until his son had taken a shower. Petro was obviously sick. As he recalled later, “I started to feel bad in the shower. I came out; my father was waiting for me. ‘How do you feel, sonny?’ Hearing almost nothing by then, I heard only ‘Hold on.’”
The Page 99 Test reveals the essence of the book better than any test I can imagine.
Learn more about Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe at the Basic Books website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Empire.

The Page 99 Test: The Gates of Europe.

--Marshal Zeringue