The Oral History Center launched a new book club in 2019, where we read a book that draws on oral history interviews.
Our February selection is Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich. We’ll be discussing the book next week and posting a not-so-transcript of our conversation shortly after.
Here’s the discussion questions if you’re following along:
- Narrators in this book often point out where their stories diverge from official narratives about Chernobyl. What role do politics play in telling stories about Chernobyl (even after the fall of the Soviet Union)? And how does this compare to other oral history topics?
- Why is it important that Alexievich shared these stories as oral history “transcripts,” rather than as narrative prose that employs quotes from oral histories?
- Alexievich does not always provide names or much information about narrators. Why do you think this is, and how did that impact the way you read the book?
- If this collection of oral histories has a thesis, what do you think it is? What story is Alexievich trying to tell?
- How did you think about the cultural practice of storytelling in these communities represented in Chernobyl, as compared to Western communities?
- Do you consider this to be oral history? Why or why not?
- What impact did this book have on your perspective about the potential of oral history?
- If you have memories of the Chernobyl disaster, how do these stories compare?