"Illegal tourists make dead cities alive again." These abandoned places are also regenerated through the haunting prose of Ukrainian writer Markiyan Kamysh in Stalking the Atomic City: Life Among the Decadent and the Depraved of Chornobyl. Kamysh, the son of a Chornobyl liquidator and nuclear physicist, has illegally explored the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone repeatedly since 2010. This slim volume of his experiences and observations, translated by Hanna Leliv and Reilly Costigan-Humes, is a fever dream of "stalkers," those people who seek out the restricted areas where the Chornobyl disaster "lit up like the Wormwood star" in 1986. Numerous times a year, Kamysh calls the Chornobyl Zone home, "a place to relax" that beckons him to explore abandoned buildings, endure freezing temperatures without a sleeping bag and drink from streams poisoned with radiation. It is a memoir of a madman in many respects, but also a testament to living life fully in a hoary landscape of death.
In bold strokes, Kamysh relates both the sublime and horrific moments when he and fellow stalkers take a walk in the Zone. Whereas abandoned houses "make normal people sad... they make people like me sleepy and peaceful," Kamysh writes. The severe Ukrainian winter can almost convince him never to return: "But there are moments when even fires can't help. Then you start screaming." The exhilaration of the intrepid trespasser sings throughout this crass, funky ode to an addiction to living in the realm of desolation. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver