Book Review: 10 Valiant Things about VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL by Svetlana Alexievich

Voices from Chernobyl

by Svetlana Alexievich

Nikki’s Rating: 10 out of 10

Summary: The haunting account of survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Svetlana Alexievich interviewed not just people who lived there but workers at the nuclear plant, scientists, doctors, soldiers, wives of firefighters, re-settlers, and those involved with the clean up including miners, helicopter pilots, and liquidators. Each story is tragic and harrowing as the aftermath of the disaster continues 10 years later and into the foreseeable future.

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10 Valiant Things about VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL by Svetlana Alexievich’s

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Survivors

The biggest reason why Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl is so powerful is because it is in the survivors’ own words. Alexievich didn’t edit their words, try to soften them, or change their stories to fit her own perceptions. Many of these stories are horrific but they are real. Someone lived that nightmare and their story is worth being heard.

2. Diversity

Alexievich didn’t stick to interviewing just people who lived in the Zone, she actively searched and interviewed people who were affected by the Chernobyl disaster through different means. Thousands of people got radiation not from living in the Zone but from being involved with the clean up and containment of the nuclear reactor. These include soldiers, miners, liquidators, pilots, and firefighters.

3. Cover-Up

Of course, one of the worst things that Russia did during the Chernobyl disaster is the government attempted to cover-up how bad the disaster really was. Whether to keep face internationally or to avoid panic within the country, the government consistently denied the dangers and they still continue to do so. As noted in Voices from Chernobyl, a physicist in 1999 came forward claiming that living and farming in Belarus was dangerous due to radiation levels and was therefore imprisoned until 2005, upon release he was exiled and remains so.

4. Ignorance

One of the most surprising things to me was the disbelief that many people did have about the effects of radiation even after being warned by those in authority. There were areas that the government did actually evacuate and deemed unsafe for people to stay in and yet many people chose to stay or returned after being evacuated. These people continued eating food grown in the area and used milk and meat from contaminated livestock. One individual described radiation as believable as fairy dust, it cannot be seen and so it must be magic, it is of no consequence to them.

5. Clean-Up

While at times incredibly hard to read, Voices from Chernobyl gives details about how clean-up was done after the disaster. The burying of not just the top layers of soil but of everything above ground in some areas. The systematic killing of livestock, pets, and any animals found within the Zone. And then of course the evacuations of people within the Zone.

6. Willful Negligence

Voices of Chernobyl clearly shows the willful negligence and disregard for life that the Russian government had at the time of the disaster. Not only did they not distribute adequate protective gear for those responding to the disaster, they also didn’t educate them on safety measures that they could have taken. For example, authorities didn’t explain to the clean up crews and soldiers that their clothes would retain radiation. One liquidator allowed his son to wear the cap he wore in the Zone often with no thought of it, his then healthy son developed a brain tumor 2 years later.

7. Aftermath

Many of the stories in Voices of Chernobyl are not about the disaster itself but rather the continuing aftermath. The severely ill children, the high mortality rates, babies being born with defects, women unable to get pregnant or suffering from multiple miscarriages. Each year in Belarus, the number of people with cancer, neurological disorders, mental retardation, and genetic mutations increases.

8. Denial

Going along with the need to cover-up the effects of the Chernobyl disaster, Russia continues to deny them and the devastation radiation can cause. Officially, Russia accepts the Chernobyl death toll of 54 individuals. Many organizations, including the UN, believe that the death toll number is in the thousands with others believing that it may in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Without the government taking responsibility, many families will continue being burdened with expensive medical bills from their loved ones illnesses that were actually caused by radiation due to Chernobyl.

9. The Motherland

So many stories included a sense of pride in the Motherland that I’ve come to associate with the Russian people. While Chernobyl was an epic disaster, many of these stories included love for their fellow man and pride for their country. So many times in tragedy, we show our capability for courage, selflessness, and dedication to the greater good. There were those who knew the dangers of the radiation, who knew they were risking their lives, and still reported to Chernobyl to do what they could for the world, the Motherland, and their loved ones.

10. Love

Overall reading Voices from Chernobyl was difficult as the stories are all heartbreaking to various degrees. But regardless of the sorrow, pain, and suffering, the stories also included love and hope. Love for their land, their home, their family, their friends, their animals. That regardless of this tragedy in their lives, they will go forward and live the best life that they can.


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

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Book Review: 8 Idolized Things about I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

Nikki’s Rating: 8 out of 10

Summary: Beloved poet and author Maya Angelou takes us back to her childhood. Raised by her religious grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya endures abandonment, racism, and rape. But most importantly, this memoir is about how she overcame these and found hope, love, and herself through so many trials and tribulations.

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8 Idolized Things about I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS by Maya Angelou

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Writing

First and foremost, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is written beautifully, as is all Maya Angelou’s work. While I prefer her poetry, Angelou is a phenomenal author and writes eloquently with great description and a knack for using words effectively to capture emotions.

2. Pacing

Memoirs and/or biographies can be very dry and unengaging, just a statement of facts and dates without any real purpose or emotional connections. Thankfully, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings does not have this problem. Pacing throughout this memoir was good and each story was filled with emotional engagement that will draw readers in.

3. Racism

Obviously a great amount of Maya Angelou’s upbringing was overshadowed by racism being an African American woman. Angelou describes the experiences she had with racism and readers are able to feel the wrongness of such attitudes even when they were not meant to be malicious. Such as Angelou not being able to get emergency dental work done simply because she was “colored” or her boss calling Angelou by the wrong name simply because she didn’t want to take the time to say her real name. Racism is not about hurting others because of their color, it is about treating them differently because of their color.

4. Rape

Any woman who comes forward and tells her story of being raped is courageous beyond measure. While incredibly hard to read, Angelou’s experience of rape is shared by countless women and it is vital that she shared it. Obviously this trauma shaped who she was but more importantly, it may help other women to share their story or help them understand they are not alone and their feelings of shame, confusion, self-hatred, anger, despair, and/or fear are valid.

5. Humanity

While humanity is not exclusively all bad, the human race has done and continues to do some terrible shit. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Angelou paints the picture of both the good and bad aspects of humanity that she has seen in her life but one line that really resonated with me was:

“As a species, we were an abomination. All of Us.”

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6. Reading

Being an avid reader and loving to devour books, it is so meaningful when an author shares this enjoyment as well. And Angelou describes the magic and enchantment of reading so well:

“To be allowed, no, invited, into the private lives of strangers, and to share their joys and fears, was a chance to exchange the Southern bitter wormwood for a cup of mead with Beowulf or a hot cup of tea and milk with Oliver Twist.”

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7. Kindness

The balance to all the bigotry, hate, and trauma Angelou endured is the kindness she experienced from others. None more so than Mrs. Bertha Flowers who threw Angelou “a life line” and was able to draw Angelou out to talking again by giving Angelou special attention, inviting her inside her home, telling her about the power of words, and lending Angelou books to read aloud. This story was a perfect example of how a simple kindness can have a tremendous effect on others and ultimately the world. Like throwing a stone in a pond, one never knows how far out their ripple of kindness will flow.

8. Overcoming

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings does not progress too far into Angelou’s life but where it ends off is shortly after becoming the first African American employed on the San Francisco streetcars and this is no small achievement. In regards to overcoming so many obstacles and becoming a woman to be reckoned with, Angelou explains:

“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power. The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.”

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As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

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Book Review: 8 Benevolent Things about BENEATH THE SURFACE by John Hargrove

Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish

by John Hargrove

Nikki’s Rating: 8 out of 10

Summary: Wanting nothing more than to work with orcas, John Hargrove realized his childhood dream and became a killer whale trainer at SeaWorld. But after 14 years of working at SeaWorld of California, SeaWorld of Texas, and MarineLand in the south of France, Hargrove walked away and gave up his dream. In this heartbreaking and honest memoir, Hargrove spills the secrets of SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium and the atrocities the corporation allows for the sake of profit.

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8 Benevolent Things about BENEATH THE SURFACE by John Hargrove

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Educational

Beneath the Surface was full of fun facts that were interesting, such as orcas are matriarchal and pods are centered around a dominant female. And while Hargrove pulled from his own experience and observations from working with orcas, he also offers insights from researchers and experts who study the lives of orcas living free in the wild.

2. Prisoners

One of the strongest points that Hargrove makes clear is that the orcas of SeaWorld are prisoners. No matter what improvements and changes the corporation makes to their living conditions or treatments, these animals are captives. And this imprisonment is not done for their protection or for their health, they are captive solely for profit.

3. Captivity

The most heartbreaking thing about Beneath the Surface is reading how the orcas behave in captivity. Pulling the paint off their pool from sheer boredom, crying and wailing after being separated from their calves, repeatedly raking each other, which is not normal behavior in adult wild orcas. To animal deserves to live in captivity.

4. Trainers

While Hargrove makes it known that he does not agree or condone with the policies and practices of SeaWorld, he remains extremely respectful towards the employees who work for SeaWorld. As someone who lived through the struggle of wanting to help the whales and yet knowing that SeaWorld was exploiting the animals, Hargrove understands the compartmentalizing employees must do and he respects that these other trainers and employees have a different journey than he does. He does not villainize them or imply that they are making the wrong choice.

5. Exposure

SeaWorld was exposed in the documentary Blackfish but Hargrove is able to shed more light. As a former employee, Hargrove is able to give examples of events that occurred at SeaWorld that the higher ups ignored or spun in ways that made humans look at fault. Never has SeaWorld come forward admitting that the orcas are dangerous, as they are prisoners held in tight quarters. Rather, they point the finger at the trainers, “She allowed her hair to touch the water and the killer whale thought it was a new toy.” “He panicked and drowned.” “The trainer missed his mark, didn’t give the right signal” etc. Hargrove is able to give testimony that SeaWorld is concerned about one thing: money. No amount of concerns from trainers, experts, or advocates have made them change having the killer whales for entertainment.

6. Beauty

Although Beneath the Surface focuses on the horrors done to captive orcas, Hargrove does an amazing job of conveying the beauty and majesty of killer whales. The communal bonds they share, the attachment and dedication orca mothers have to their offspring, no matter how old they are, and the relationships they can create with humans. Hargrove truly shows how complex, emotional, and intelligent killer whales are and that these beings deserve our respect, love and awe.

7. Necessary Evil

Sadly, there are still quite a few orcas in captivity and Hargrove explains that SeaWorld may be a necessary evil at this time. Hargrove is realistic and realizes that these captive orcas behave so unnaturally, with some of them being unnatural hybrids, that they would have no chance of survival free in the wild. Hargrove’s proposed solution is for the orca breeding program to be ended and that capturing any dolphins or whales be illegal world wide. And then finally, providing the already captive orcas with a more humane cage where they can live the remainder of their lives not performing or in isolation.

8. Advocate

Now that he has left the life as a killer whale trainer, John Hargrove is now an advocate for them. He maintains his deep love and respect for these animals and now serves them in a different manner. As with this book, Hargrove is attempting to put an end to whale captivity and educate the public and lawmakers through speeches and interviews. He had a choice to step away from SeaWorld, keep his mouth shut, and move on to a new chapter in his life. Instead he chose to stick up for the whales and take on SeaWorld. 


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

Be Authentic. Be Unique. Be You.

Book Review: 10 Brilliant Things about BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

by Trevor Noah

Nikki’s Rating: 10 out of 10

Summary: Literally born a crime, Trevor Noah explores his upbringing living in South Africa during apartheid. Being colored he never seems to fit in, Trevor is too black to be white and too white to be black. His coming of age story is touching, full of hardships and yet, unbelievably hilarious as Trevor Noah uses humor to remain resilient and portray the absurdity that humans can partake in.

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10 Brilliant Things about BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Hilarious

Born a Crime was hilarious, like laugh-out-loud funny! Even though the book deals with some very heavy topics, Trevor Noah uses his humor effectively and allows the reader to really grasp the absurdity that can be life.

2. Honesty

One of the most effective things about Born a Crime is the brutal honesty Noah has. He doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat things or only portray his loved ones in a positive light. He is real, genuine, and straightforward no matter if it is good or bad.

3. South Africa

Learning about a different culture and place in the world is always worthwhile. Obviously with Trevor Noah being born and raised in South Africa, this is where Born a Crime takes place and while Noah is just a single person from this country, he does a great job of showing some of the country’s diversity and difference amongst its people.

4. Racism

Probably the most important subject in Born a Crime is that of racism. While one might assume that racism wouldn’t exist in a country that is majority black, colonialism has influenced all of Africa and has created huge discrepancies between races. These negative influences continue to have an impact today as Noah shows throughout his book.

5. Not Fitting In

While not many of us could claim they understand what it is like to be a colored kid growing up in apartheid South Africa, I think most people can relate to feeling like they don’t fit in. Noah paints such a powerful and heartbreaking portrayal of the hurt, confusion, and desire of wanting to belong.

6. Love

Throughout Born a Crime the reader can truly sense and feel the deep love and respect Trevor has for his mother and the unconditional love that his mother has for him. It is absolutely beautiful and resonates throughout the novel.

7. Shit

Intellectual and profound in many ways, Trevor is constantly reminding the reader that we are all just human, no better, no less, and the most memorable and hilarious way he reminds us of this is through his comments on shitting:

“It’s a powerful experience, shitting. There’s something magical about it, profound even. I think God made humans shit in the way we do because it brings us back down to earth and gives us humility. I don’t care who you are, we all shit the same. Beyoncé shits. The pope shits. The Queen of England shits. When we shit we forget our airs and our graces, we forget how famous or how rick we are. All of that goes away.”

8. Perseverance

Overcoming poverty, racism, and a bad childhood is never an easy endeavor. Coming back from being shot in the head seems nearly impossible and yet, these are the stories that Trevor Noah shares. The perseverance that him and his family have shown and continue to show is inspirational and leaves an overall sense of hope that is much needed in a world that is rampant with poverty, racism, abuse, violence, addiction, hatred, and ignorance.

9. Writing

Overall, Born a Crime was written well and a relatively quick read. Without sounding like a boring history book, Noah gave pertinent facts needed for readers to understand context and continued using humor and wit to bring light into some very dark situations.

10. Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is a fantastic comedian and while I am unsure if he will ever write another book in the future at least we can enjoy him on “The Daily Show.”


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

Be Authentic. Be Unique. Be You.