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Stalking the Atomic City : Life among the…
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Stalking the Atomic City : Life among the Decadent and the Depraved of… (edició 2022)

de Markiyan Kamysh (Autor)

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"Stalking the Atomic City is a rare portrait of the dystopian reality that is Chornobyl. Focusing on the site as it is today, Markiyan Kamysh introduces us to the marginalized people who call the Exclusion Zone their home, providing a haunting account of what total autonomy could mean in our growingly fractured world."--… (més)
Títol:Stalking the Atomic City : Life among the Decadent and the Depraved of Chornobyl
Autors:Markiyan Kamysh (Autor)
Informació:Astra Publishing House (2022), 160 pages
Col·leccions:La teva biblioteca

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Stalking the Atomic City: Life Among the Decadent and the Depraved of Chornobyl de Markiyan Kamysh

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Markiyan Kamysh, the author of this unusual book, is the son of a nuclear physicist and design engineer who worked as one of the “liquidators” after the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl – or, to use the alternative name favoured by Kamysh – “Chornobyl”. Perhaps because of this personal connection, Kamysh is obsessed with the Exclusion Zone that is still in place, spanning a radius of several kilometres around the remains of the Power Plant. Since 2010, he has ventured into this out-of-bounds area on numerous occasions, whether on his own, with friends, or with curious foreigners who appoint him as a “stalker” or guide to the Zone. Stalking the Atomic City is a curious blend of memoir and travelogue, peopled by dubious characters including reckless (and hapless) adventurers, looters, scrap-dealers, vandals, drug-addicts and alcoholics in search of a high. Throughout the book, there is a palpable sense of danger. The author’s own photographs highlight a desolate landscape, a toxic wasteland where wild animals (and police patrols) roam.

The text, rendered from the Ukrainian by Hanna Leliv and Reilly Costigan-Humes, has an idiosyncratic style which needs some getting used to. It veers from poetic (substance-induced?) ecstasy to expletive-strewn passages worthy of a hard-boiled thriller. The results are often original, but at other times maddeningly overwritten and overwrought, with hit-and-miss attempts at humour. Sometimes, awkward switches of tenses (past, present, future) and changes of POV create some confusion, although this strangely fits the discombobulating atmosphere of the Zone. Some examples will give a taste of what I mean:

"We threw our backpacks on the ground and started to climb in silence. At the height of a sixteen-story building, wind blew into our faces and our hands were frozen to the bone, as a frigid thaw stretched its wetness onto the antennas’ rusty skeletons, and my gloves got soaked through. My friend captured the panorama of the expanse of snow on his old phone. You can’t cram a hundred million impressions into two million pixels. Under the vault of those incredible constructions, myriads of drops crashed against the cold metal. Every moment brimmed with new sounds. You can’t stuff myriads of falling drops into millions of bytes of voice messages. Even if Erik Satie played on all the pianos in Prypyat at the same time, he wouldn’t have impressed me as much as those drops, wouldn’t have beaten my hungover memory as hard with a sledgehammer of bright impressions.

As a matter of fact, I don’t like taking new people along. Or some of the old ones, either. I have to take them where we agreed to go. To Prypyat, that is. But what if on the way to Prypyat, somewhere after Chornobyl-2, it occurs to me that I haven’t been to the Emerald summer camp for a hundred years and that its little cottages will soon crumble – what then? In short, when you bring someone along for a trip, it’s like you’ve thrown a manhole cover from the ninth floor onto your own head – a manhole cover of obligations and rules.

So, I return from the Zone and think to myself: “Here I am, back home, drinking my orange Hike, devouring brand-name chocolate bars, washing them down with Pepsi, and enjoying the spice of life. “ And then I realize that I have a few words to say to the folks criticizing consumer goods of modern civilization. To everyone who hates that you can buy ten kinds of frozen veggies and twenty kinds of cigarettes at the supermarket. You’re fuckers. Just taste a chocolate bar after a two-week trip to the Chornobyl dump; just feel the hazelnuts crunching on your long-unbrushed teeth; just take a swig of soda and only then can you curse having access to a large variety of foreign goods. Fuckers."

Style apart, I guess that whether you love this book or not will depend on whether you’ll fall for its atmosphere. In that regard, I must say that Stalking the Atomic City appealed to my neo-Gothic sensibilities, the huge antennas and moody ruins replacing the decrepit castles and abbeys of old, the swamps and beasts standing in for the awe-inspiring Romantic sublime, the frisson of danger adding a hint of horror. And although the book is not strictly speaking a work of psychogeography, there are echoes of the genre in its descriptions of abandoned urban spaces, as in Lubyanka, “the oasis of the old Zone” where:

The ghosts of dead grandmas still floated around…; clocks were in the cupboards, no longer ticking; jugs stood intact; and boots were lined up in the hallways… It still looks like the Zone of the nineties, those turbulent times when you went inside a house and you knew – someone had been living there just yesterday.

Stalking the Atomic City is more than a book, it is an experience. Whether it is to your liking is another matter, but the only way to know is to try it.

3.5* ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Jun 19, 2022 |
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"Stalking the Atomic City is a rare portrait of the dystopian reality that is Chornobyl. Focusing on the site as it is today, Markiyan Kamysh introduces us to the marginalized people who call the Exclusion Zone their home, providing a haunting account of what total autonomy could mean in our growingly fractured world."--

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