Way Behind, But Oh Well

Hi, so I did finish book #84 of this quickly-ending year and it took way longer than I anticipated. It was super good, but somehow between the Christmas festivities and reuniting with my family and friends from home, reading took the backseat.

I’ve accepted the fact that I probably won’t finish all 100 books this year, but my flight back to New York from Iowa has been delayed at least one day (maybe three) thanks Goliath)) so there’s plenty of time to stay holed up reading before I leave. I read All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon. I highly recommend it.

The book is essentially following the lives of a few key characters as they experience the eventual end of the Soviet Union, beginning with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

There is a surgeon, Grigory, forced to work onsite nonstop for more than six months performing surgery after surgery on those who have been tragically affected by unprecedented radiation poisoning. Some of these parts in the story were a bit hard to stomach.

There is Grigory’s ex-wife, Maria, who was a journalist and is unwilling to quell her natural curiosity about government events while she bides her time working in a factory; there is Maria’s sister, mother of Yevgeni who is a 9-year-old piano prodigy unable to totally understand his need to practice relentlessly.

There are a lot of other characters too, all loosely woven together. I believe this is McKeon’s first novel, but he was a really great writer, especially skilled at weaving in vivid flashbacks to give the reader a sharp sense of who these characters were before leading the (comparably bleaker) lives that we see them lead.

I also love historical fiction books like this because I really didn’t know much about this event before, but reading about a true event in this way, through the eyes of sympathetic, fictional characters got me curious about history in a way I probably wouldn’t have been if I had read about it in a textbook.

So yes, beautiful writing, deep and interesting characters, a well-woven story, and gripping facts about something that was actually going on only 30 years ago. Good work, McKeon. ◊

‘I speak to you only as a man surrounded by forgotten years. The only change for my wife and I will be death. Resistance is for the young. And you, whether you realize it or not, are still young.'”

– page 344

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