As a child of the 1980s, one of the major world events that continues to resonate with me is the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. For that reason alone I was keen to pick up All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon. But this novel does not stop there, it also provides a scathing look at the last days of Soviet Communism before its ultimate demise.
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is partially set in Moscow and partially in Ukraine in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident. Grigory, a Moscow based doctor seconded to work with the victims of Chernobyl, is the thread that joins the two stories. Through him we see what life was like for those living in the areas surrounding the nuclear power plants in the days and weeks immediately following the accident. As time goes on, it is also through Grigory that we experience the institutional paralysis that prevented people in the know from doing what they felt to be the right thing for those who had come face-to-face with nuclear fallout.
Back in Moscow, we also peak into the lives of a family struggling to survive under the so-called glories of communism. In spite of having jobs, they struggle to find enough to eat. Through Grigory’s ex-wife Maria, we see how politics at the micro level affect the daily lives of all those tied up in the great machine of Communism.
Overall i quite enjoyed the book. To me there appeared to be some anachronisms, but that may reflect my scant knowledge of the time and place more than McKeon’s research abilities. I found his ability as an Irish person living in American to place the reader in Soviet Russia amazing. I was transported.
Who would like this book? All That Is Solid Melts Into Air will appeal to those looking for a literary look at Russia in the wake of the Chernobyl accident. This is no Cold War spy tale. Things are not so black and white. Although I have not read Animal’s People by Indra Singh, which recounts the lives of survivors of the 1984 Bhopal factory disaster, McKeon’s book reminded me of how much I’ve always wanted to read it. There is something about these huge, industrial disasters that really grabs my attention and imagination.