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The Sky Unwashed

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  832 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
Marusia, in her seventies, is the matriarch of the Petrenko family. She has lived and worked all her life in starylis, a tiny town in rural Ukraine. Starylis is a place where families still live in the ancient thatched-roof cottages that have been their homes for generations. It's a place where everyone grows their own vegetables, where the old women (the babas) sweep the ...more
Paperback, 263 pages
Published March 31st 2000 by Algonquin Books
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Лісова пісня by Леся УкраїнкаСолодка Даруся by Maria MatiosТореадори з Васюківки by Всеволод НестайкоКобзар by Taras ShevchenkoDeath and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
Ukrainian Literature
41st out of 149 books — 61 voters
The Joy Luck Club by Amy TanThe Immigrant and the Golden Coin by Dorothy May MercerInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa LahiriUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa LahiriThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Immigrant Voices - Fiction
118th out of 226 books — 183 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,517)
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Aug 13, 2013 Dem rated it liked it
3.5 Stars

The Sky Unwashed by Irene Zabytbo was an interesting read which told the story of Marusia Petrenko and her family who live on a small farm in the Ukraine and how on an April Saturday Morning in 1986 her life and the lives of her family and neighbours is changed forever by the horrors of the Chernobyl accident and the disturbing way in which the government mislead the people.

This is fictitious account of the Chernobyl disaster which made the word sit up and take notice as we all waited
Dec 12, 2009 Ann rated it it was amazing
I know a book is good when I immediately want to Google it and learn more about the subject matter. As we start looking at nuclear power to solve out energy needs, this book becomes a must read.

"The Sky Unwashed" brought back memories of Chernobyl, the horrible fate that awaited the residents and the horrific response of the government. It follows the story of an elderly woman who loses her only son to radiation sickness, then enables her daughter-in-law and grandchildren to escape. Then she do
Jeannette Nikolova
Sep 28, 2013 Jeannette Nikolova rated it it was ok
What I really didn't like was the lack of depth to the story. If I didn't know about what actually happened in Chernobyl, I would have no idea about the magnitude of the event in comparison to what happens in the book. I get that the author wanted to recapture the lack of information that the real people had back then, but I am positive they couldn't have been that oblivious. I wasn't born yet, but my parents lived in another closed-off socialist country - Bulgaria, and in a few months they alre ...more
Sep 24, 2013 Ladory rated it liked it
I recommended this book to my women's reading club. We will discuss it in a week or so. It was a bookbub deal on Kindle so I grabbed it. I'm really looking forward to the discussion!

I work at one of the national laboratories and when the Chernobyl meltdown occurred, some of the Lab employees were called upon to go help. They gave a talk when they returned. They said that it was a holiday and the few employees working that day ran an experiment but unthinkingly turned off all the "braking" system
Feb 01, 2012 Emily rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! I picked it up on a whim as I was leaving the library because I have a passing interest in Chernobyl and the Soviet Union. I honestly didn't expect anything too great but it just sucked me in. It was so heart-breaking to see how the people were treated and, reading in hindsight, how they were lied to. I really felt for all the characters and I thought Zabytko did a great job building up them up. Yes, I will admit they were a bit stereotypical, but despite that I still found my ...more
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
Apr 06, 2011 Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk rated it really liked it
This is a lovely, gentle book about the slow death of a community. It starts with the normal friction and vivacity of everyday life in a Ukrainian village and progresses through the chaos and aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster; displacement, loss of identity and, finally, return, by the older members of the village, to a dying land. The book reflects this contrast between the vitality of life and the uncertain peace of dying (poisoned by radiation) and drifts slowly into a hopeful oblivion. Whe ...more
Marissa  Pineda
Jul 04, 2009 Marissa Pineda rated it it was ok
I didn't really enjoy this book---the tone was so "down"---but, how else is a book about the aftrmath of Chernobyl supposed to be? Not at all my favorite book, or my favorite subject--but I learned that you don't have to like a book to gain something from it. Worth reading for the history/culture/politics--if you're into that kind of thing.
Sep 27, 2013 Jeannine rated it really liked it
I gave this book four stars, despite the pedestrian writing, because it manages to be a feel-good book even in the face of government lies, cheating spouses, radiation sickness, starvation and death. Like Faulkner's people, these villagers endured. Not just endured -- enjoyed the paltry slice of life left to them.
Bernie Gourley
Aug 13, 2015 Bernie Gourley rated it really liked it
The Sky Unwashed is a character-driven novel, telling the story of an elderly pensioner residing a few miles from the ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear plant. The protagonist’s name is Marusia, and she lives with her beaten-down son Yurko, his cheating wife Zosia, and the dysfunctional couple’s children (her grandchildren.)

The first part of the novel is a bit of a slog, though the character portraits of the adult family members may be enough to keep one intrigued if one enjoys being pulled into a dys
Sep 22, 2013 Sarah rated it liked it
This story is about the matriarchs of a Russian village poisoned by Chernobyl, and their experience living through the disaster, and with the fallout. Literally, in this case - the main character escapes briefly iwth her family, but after getting them out, she goes back to the village to live out the rest of her life on her home soil...even though it is poisoned with radiation and she knows she will die there.

Somehow, though this is a tragic and sad story about people being lied to and failed b
Chris Enderle
Apr 01, 2013 Chris Enderle rated it it was amazing
Chernobyl is a name that will forever live in infamy and shadowy deception of what was once the pride and joy of the Soviet Union. During the height of the cold war, Chernobyl was a little town within the region of Pripyat, established by the Soviet Union at the time so that workers at the nuclear plant there wouldn’t have to travel so far. Over time, they began bringing their families with them, and the government believed that this was a sign to the rest of the world of their power, and of how ...more
Nov 21, 2013 Lavon rated it liked it
This was an interesting fictional read about a small village near Chernobyl and the aftermath of the explosion at the nuclear plant there in 1986. It centered around a family and the matriarch of the family that eventually moved back to her village after the evacuation because that was the only place she had ever known. It was appalling how the Soviet government treated all the people affected by the Chernobyl fall out. What amazed me the most was that it I had not known this story takes place i ...more
Oct 11, 2014 Ixris rated it it was amazing
I feel like this book is an unsung hero of Women's Literature.

All the characters of note are women. Sure, they have husbands. Sure, they have men who run their world. But the interesting, delightful characters who have anything to say at all are women.

Little, old, darling, peasant-class, old-world, Ukranian babushka-women.

Their worries and problems leading up to and following the Chernobyl melt-down are the worries and problems of a little old darling peasant-class babushka-woman, even during th
Kay Rohrer
Aug 12, 2014 Kay Rohrer rated it it was amazing
An amazing tale of the lives of people affected by Chernobyl.

Based on true stories, Zabytko has told their story through the life of Marusia Petrenko, a grandmother from a tiny farming village near Chernobyl in Ukraine.

Forced to leave Starylis and live in squalid conditions in Kiev, Marusia believes government reports that the "accident" was nothing and returns alone to her home. Her daughter-in-law takes the children to Moscow.

The story of Marusia's return to the empty town; the return of thr
Kathy Barton
Feb 14, 2014 Kathy Barton rated it really liked it
This is the story of a family that lived outside Chernobyl and worked in the plant when the nuclear explosion happened in 1986. It tells the story of Marusia, a grandmother who lives with her son, Yurko and daughter in law and 2 children. Her son was working at the plant when the accident happened and did not come home for 3 days. When he did come home, he was very sick with radiation poisoning. Within days, they were forced to leave and go to Kiev, where Yurlo was put in a hospital. The daughte ...more
Mar 03, 2010 Malissa rated it liked it
This book was very interesting and makes me want to know more about the Chernobyl "accident". I have looked into a few movies and documentaries about the subject. It painted a very vivid picture of what the residents' lives were like. I would like to do more research to know how close to the truth the author was. At times the book was a bit rambling but she used some beautiful language.
Stephanie Johnson
Apr 27, 2014 Stephanie Johnson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed-on-btc
I have loved books, adored books, and not been willing to give them a full score. There’s generally some kind of flaw or plot hole or something that makes me back off on whatever attempt at a perfect score I might have given them. Sometimes, it’s even as serious as some form of racism, bigotry, or intolerance that will kill a book. I was braced for that with this book, given the subject matter. As an American, my knowledge of the Chernobyl reactor meltdown is rudimentary and flawed, and while I ...more
Aug 29, 2014 Dree rated it really liked it
I found this while browsing Oyster, and it sucked me in.

Marusia, her son Yurko, daughter-in-law Zosia, and their children Katia and Tarysk live together in Starlys, a small village near Chernobyl. Yurko is at work at the plant when the explosion happens, and make sit home a few days later. Meanwhile, Zosia tries to go in for her shift, but is turned away. And then the town is evacuated to Ziev. And there the townspeople and families are torn apart.

In addition to the fictionalized history and lif
Garrett Zecker
Jul 14, 2014 Garrett Zecker rated it liked it
With the state of the regional politics in the areas around the Soviet Union at the time of the Chernobyl disaster, there was no wonder that there were heated political and social issues surrounding the event. What I was not aware of was the society of independently decided citizens who made fateful decisions that essentially sentenced them to a terrible death - but their ability to do this in a selfless and self-aware manner is inspirational and lovely. I even did a little bit of research about ...more
Maryclaire Zampogna
Jun 16, 2014 Maryclaire Zampogna rated it really liked it
I have read nonfiction books of the Chernobyl nuclear accident and this novel really makes you feel like you are there in the dead zone location. The 4 older women who have returned to their roots have you feeling their pain and hard work trying to find food and water that hasn't been contaminated with the radiation. The author describes how some animals have lived but are deformed. The older women keep up their strength and work to live in the dead zone, that they think is ok to come back to. T ...more
Aug 22, 2013 Brenda rated it really liked it
An interesting family saga that took place during the Chernobyl incident. Wish they had 4-1/2 stars, cause it was very good.
Sep 03, 2013 Helen rated it liked it
"The Sky Unwashed" by Irene Zabytko, is the fictional story of a family who experienced the fire and nuclear accident at Chernobyl. The story starts with the realities of day to day life in communist Russia and paints a good picture of what we westerners have heard and read about that existence. The secrecy that surrounds the accident while it is unfolding to the local residents seems nothing short of criminal though the locals are very aware that there is something definitely wrong with the wat ...more
Dec 12, 2013 Diane rated it really liked it
This is a novel about the Chernobyl disaster. A quick summary: The main character is an older woman, Marusia, who lives in the small town of Starylis about 10 km from Chernobyl. Nearly all the younger people in town work at the plant. After the melt down, the whole town is evacuated and Marusia and her family spend months as refugees in Kiev. Finally, after her son dies and her daughter-in-law takes the children to Moscow, Marusia decides to move back to Starylis. She is the only one there but s ...more
Sep 03, 2013 Joy rated it liked it
Book number 53 in my Around the World in 80 Books Reading Challenge -

The Sky Unwashed by Irene Zabytko is a fictional account of the terrible Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in the 1980's. It follows the lives of plant workers, housewives, and children who suffered the after effects of the Chernobyl plant meltdown, and the Soviet government's inefficiency to act. It's a grim, but honest, story of these events, the years that followed, and the lasting impact.

Jan 30, 2014 Dimitri rated it it was ok
In 1986 there was an accident in the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine. Significant amounts of radiation were released and consequently the people working in the plant or living in the vicinity suffered the tragic consequences. All this is well known and documented in significant detail.
This book is the story of a family who in a village near the plant. Naturally, it is a tragic story but it is also a particularly dull one. The book was interesting in the beginning because it painted an intere
Feb 15, 2015 lc rated it it was amazing
Human faces and feelings were given to victims of Chernobyl. This horrible nuclear tragedy has never been fully explained by Russia although it occurred in April 1986! No full accountability of lives lost or aftermath of the radiation poisoning has been fully offered. Though the marital drama of the novel might not seem necessary, it probably was since jobs for good looking women and job security often were contingent upon sexual favors for party bosses at that time.

Shoddy practices at the pow
Diane Lybbert
Sep 07, 2013 Diane Lybbert rated it really liked it
This was a wonderful book. The place is a small village outside of Chernobyl, in 1986 when the nuclear power plant had a massive explosion releasing deadly radiation into the air. Centering on one woman, Marusia, and her family, we follow her as she is evacuated to Kiev, the filthy and overcrowded hospital where her son (who had worked at Chernobyl) finally dies; then as she tries to find a place to go from there; then finally back to her little village, long abandoned after the accident. For aw ...more
Sep 04, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is why I love historical fiction. Even when it is a fictionalized account, I learn something. And I want to learn more about the actual history and how it affected real people. This story, based on real accounts, was a vivid picture of the chaos and lack of information and tragedy that the people who suffered through the Chernobyl disaster were subjected to. I loved the way the culture of these Ukrainian families and the community of women comes through. I liked that even the characters tha ...more
Sep 20, 2013 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, women, disasters
What I loved about this was the small, intimate details of every day life. Things used to be like this, now they are like that, worldview, food, clothing, etc. This felt like a story the author was dying to tell, and I'm glad I read it. I also loved the women-centered aspect of the story, and the well-defined characters. My concerns are small and did not take away from the pleasure of reading this book. I wondered briefly how a Ukrainian would read the cultural details--were they too explainy, l ...more
Debbie Dyckman
I enjoyed reading this fictional account of a village in Russia in the years following the Chernobyl incident. It was an interesting and thought provoking book that led me down the introspective path of how would the U.S. And it's people handle a similar event.
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