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Book Review of Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide by Darmon Richter 



While I mainly review books on my website sent to me by publishers, this time I have bought the book myself, how could I resist? It is not a large sized book but a modest 8 x 6.5 inches, and yet still manages to be a gorgeous coffee table book with its 247 pages of fascinating content. The design of the book is wonderful, from the yellow and black hazard warning on the cover spine, to the sewed binding and the designs on the endpapers. Fuel has done a gorgeous job on this volume. 

I eventually came across this book while on an internet search of brutalist architecture, something that was inspired by another review I did recently - 'Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier', which was mainly about mid-century modern design but had a nice section on brutalist design. During my search on brutalism, I came across the author’s photographs of some intriguing Soviet architecture in Bulgaria which then led me to his websites. (I’ll link those below.) Darmon Richter is a British writer and photographer “....whose work has a strong focus on place, as it explores the intersection of themes such as architecture, film, video games, memory, futurism and mythology.” 'Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide' is his first book, and I hope he writes many more. 


The content of this book is even more impressive than the outside. The photographs are stunning and Darmon’s commentary is not just beautifully written, but incredibly informative. He writes about the influence splitting the atom had on science-fiction movies such as; giant insects, Godzilla, The Incredible Hulk, and Spiderman, just to name a few. He also writes of the term ‘stalker’ which some like me already recognize from the novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and the stunning film ‘Stalker’ by Andrei Tarkovsky. People that explore the dead zone of Chernobyl are called ‘stalkers’ due to the cultural significance of the book and film. Darmon writes about his own trips into the Zone, eventually even leading tours there himself, and he also visits the Belarus side. Throughout the book he talks with many people; those who worked there, lived in the various villages, resettled, were part of the original evacuation and clean-up – he speaks to everyone from scientists to stalkers. The book covers a myriad of reflections and opinions from many people along the way, as well as sharing an incredible amount of information about what resident's lives were like in the area before the disaster, the disaster itself, and what has come afterwards. 


 Although I have always been fascinated by Chernobyl (the disaster itself, the place is called in Ukrainian, Chornobyl), for me my interest in this book was less about the disaster and more about the abandoned places. Which got me wondering – why is it I am so fascinated by abandoned places? Ruins decorated with graffiti are so much more appealing to me than anything most visitors to a place would want to see. I can’t really put my finger on what it is, but after some reflection I think there are several emotions that abandoned places heighten due to their introspective nature, and the unsettling atmosphere exuded with that sense of instability. And something about impermanence; nature reclaiming Her space from humanity. There is also something organic and beautiful in the process of decay. A balance to creation. And in my own opinion, even in their decaying state, many historical buildings are far more beautiful than anything built nowadays, at least where I live. Here modern architecture is unimaginative, uninspiring and ugly. Abandoned spaces also seem to feel freer in a sense, a place to slip out from the giant thumb of society. Of course, in the case of abandoned places off-limits, there is also the thrill of adventure and daring. And I’ve always enjoyed history, finding it almost surreal to consider the things which have happened before; and really trying to imagine the experience of living during that time. That is something I find so fascinating about monuments (luckily Darmon is also keen on them, and has photographed many, both for this book and his website), they are reminders of lives lived and places once existing and perhaps now long gone.  I also found it really interesting to read about the people that chose to resettle in their respective villages, the Zone is not in fact a truly abandoned place when many reside and work there.

Darmon is an impressive writer, the blend of facts mixed with his personal adventures into the Zone and his reflections as well, make for intriguing reading. I just adored this book!  



You can purchase the book through Fuel on their site: or it is also available on Amazon, and maybe even your local book store.

10% of sales go to the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal.


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