REVIEW: Adam Higginbotham’s MIDNIGHT IN CHERNOBYL: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster

Midnight_In_ChernobylIn the summer of 1986, I landed at Athens airport. When I glanced at my wrist watch to make sure I caught my connecting flight, it had stopped. That watch never worked again. A few years later, over lunch with a colleague, reminiscing about spending summers in Europe, we got to chatting about the summer of the Chernobyl disaster. Miles away that very summer of 1986, this woman I wasn’t to meet until years later, landed at Zagreb airport where she noticed, rushing to catch a connecting flight, her watch had stopped, never to tell time again. A peculiar coincidence. To this day, I still think Chernobyl had something to do with it. At the time, in my early twenties, looking forward to a summer of beach-reading and flirtation, had Chernobyl registered? Yes, yes, it had: it was a seminal moment, like reading the first article about AIDS in the Common Room of my liberal arts college (in the NYT Magazine), a moment, like today’s pandemic that will mark and define every young person’s life. Of the two, AIDS changed us, as the pandemic will do. Did Chernobyl? I can’t really say it did. It loomed; a frightening spectre, but it didn’t change me, the way that AIDS article did (what sad losses it brought). Chernobyl and the fear and threat of radiation, so insidious, so invisible, like the fog, coming on “little cat’s feet,” I noted my strange watch-loss and forgot about it in the Aegean’s sparkling surface. Reading Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight In Chernobyl brought it back, not only reminding me of that stopped-wrist-watch, but informing me about a disaster that loitered, continued to wreak death and destruction years after it was out of sight, out of mind for many of us who followed the event in the news at the time. Continue reading