HBO’s 5-part TV series of the same name was a stunner. I watched it all in one day. But later I read that the writer – Craig Mazin – fictionalised or compressed certain events for dramatic purposes, something he freely admits in 5 episode-length commentaries on YouTube. So I picked this book up wanting to find out ‘the truth’.
It’s dry. It’s also thorough, even-handed, exhaustively researched and very well-written. But it’s still dry. You learn about what happened on the 26th of April, 1986 and in the days and years that followed the explosion of the nuclear reactor; you just never really feel it.
While the HBO version makes a heart-stopping moment of three men going under the reactor to drain dangerous water levels, the book dispatches this in half a page. The equally chilling scene of young soldiers ordered to sprint onto a roof to flick away chunks of radioactive graphite gets a page. The burial of radioactive bodies in lead-lined coffins has none of the emotional impact of the same scene in the series.
History’s full of wildly inaccurate film and TV recounting of real events. HBO’s Chernobyl isn’t one of them. If it isn’t 100% accurate, it more than makes up for that by dramatising the fear, confusion, lies, intimidation and desperation of all those involved. It brings history alive.
I know which one I’ll remember the most.