All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon takes us back in time to the lives of people living through the Chernobyl disaster and tells of the effects that it had on their lives. This is a deep novel, one that you sit back with and take in slowly and despite the darkness of the story being told the writing is beautiful and haunting.
We have two boys who are very different and yet both of their lives are affected deeply by the disaster. One boy is a piano prodigy who is bullied for being different. His aunt Maria tries to hide her dissident past while working in a factory making car parts. Another boy living ten miles from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant wakes up to a crimson sky and blood flowing from the ears of cows in the field. He and his family are forced to evacuate and this leads them on a very uncertain and terrifying journey. Then we have Grigory who is actually Maria’s ex-husband and a surgeon. He is devoted to his work and is sent out to provide any assistance he can with the clean up after the Chernobyl disaster. Despite the real dangers that the government is trying to hide from the people Grigory knows what the effects of the radiation are and he struggles to get those dangers through to the people living in the direct area of the disaster. Throughout the story Grigory and Maria look back on their past lives, both alone and together. Grigory has many regrets with regards to Maria and still cares for her. It is through each of these characters that this story comes alive and it is so vividly portrayed that many times I could feel their fear and anxiety and the absolute darkness of what they were enduring.
Ultimately this was a good read for me especially from a historical point of view. Having watched a program a while back on the Chernobyl disaster I had known a bit about it but what this novel did was bring the actual people into focus and all that they experienced because of the disaster. My only complaint is that I never formed any connection to the characters in this story. Of course their lives were interesting especially considering what they were going through but for some reason I never felt an emotional connection to them – only to what they were enduring. Who knows, maybe that is exactly the point – that we are supposed to take away the horror of the Chernobyl disaster and what it did to the people who had to live through it.
I would recommend this novel to those who enjoy literary fiction with historical elements as well.