Memories of a Meltdown

by Mohamed Makhzangi

In the spring of 1986, Mohamed Makhzangi, an Egyptian doctor, was studying in Kiev. As a result, like thousands of others he found himself living a nuclear nightmare when the Chernobyl plant had a catastrophic meltdown. Blending the realism of journalism with the emotional resonance of fiction, Makhzangi conveys the quiet but steadily mounting atmosphere of fear and panic, the dubious reliability of official statements, and an overall loss of the sense of safety, of anything ever being right with the world again. From the balding colleague who is concerned only about whether his hair will fall out, to the grandfather who believes there is less contamination in hot tap water than cold, Makhzangi portrays people unwilling or unable to believe in the magnitude of the disaster unfolding around them. In the finest tradition of literary reportage, Makhzangi masterfully conveys the loneliness of exile, the urgency of a great tragedy, and the intimacy of personal experience.