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The Sky Unwashed

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,208 ratings  ·  143 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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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  1,208 ratings  ·  143 reviews

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Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is not the cheeriest book, but takes a look at the daily lives of people living in a small town where most of the people of working age work at Chernobyl. When the disaster occurs, they aren't given any information and have to figure out what to do. I liked the older female characters a lot (they have attitudes) and was not surprised to see them moving back home despite not feeling well and not living long.

We will discuss this in book club, so I may find more to say.
Aug 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: russian-history
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 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
Sep 24, 2013 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"
Jeannette Nikolova
Sep 25, 2013 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 ...more
Sep 27, 2013 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
Dec 09, 2013 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 protagonists name is Marusia, and she lives with her beaten-down son Yurko, his cheating wife Zosia, and the dysfunctional couples 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
Chris Enderle
Apr 01, 2013 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 wouldnt 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
Jan 31, 2012 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 ...more
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Set in the Ukraine in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, The Sky Unwashed is a novel about a family and what they must do to survive.  It is bleak and sad, but I appreciated the author's depiction of the events and the effect of the lives of Marusia, her son and daughter-in-law, her grandchildren and her neighbors.

It seems like Americans do a lot of complaining these days.  We have a notion of our rights (whether they are actually rights or not), and we demand they are met.  Contrast
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
Mar 16, 2011 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. ...more
Marissa  Pineda
Jul 04, 2009 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 22, 2013 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
Oct 25, 2013 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 ...more
Oct 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An amazing story. The writing is sublime, the true back story of Chernobyl as lived by these wonderfully rich characters. I remember so well when this happened and it brought back all the fears of Three mile Island and how bad it could have been.
This book brings home the truth that when something this bad happens the natives are on their own. Even when they are evacuated to another city and hospital they are subject to long lines, incompetents and lazy mean people, who don't care about anything
Feb 25, 2010 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.
Aug 17, 2016 rated it liked it
A little slow in the beginning, but a very interesting fictional account of a family in a small town near the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the 1980's. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not the 1920's. The life in this village was definitely not the 1980s that I lived through, regardless of the accident!
Malinda Lane
Great book, makes you want to read until the end to find out what happens.
Nov 12, 2012 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.
Stephanie Johnson
Apr 07, 2014 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. Theres 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, its 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 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
The book tells the story of a group of Ukrainian villagers and how the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster changed their lives forever. The main character in the book is Marusia Petrenko who lives with her son Yurko, daughter in law Zosia and their children in the small rural village of Starylis about 15km from the Chernobyl power plant. While the older generation work in the fields on the state-owned farms their children including Zosia and Yurko work at the power plant.

Events unfold one
Garrett Zecker
Jun 13, 2014 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
Aug 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a powerful novel, told from the viewpoint of an elderly Ukrainian woman, Marusia, who lived in a village near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. She lived in a tiny house, along with her son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. In 1986, her son went to his shift at the plant, and came home later, feeling very ill, and talking of a massive fire at the plant. As people heard about the "fire", they wondered if things were ok, but assumed the government would tell them if not. After three ...more
Aug 05, 2013 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.

Aug 29, 2013 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 ...more
Nov 05, 2013 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
Aug 06, 2013 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 ...more
Kathy Barton
Feb 02, 2014 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 ...more
Oct 11, 2014 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
Aug 10, 2013 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
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IRENE ZABYTKO is the author of the novel about Chernobyl THE SKY UNWASHED (a Barnes & Nobel Discover Great New Writers title and New York Times E-Book Bestseller), WHEN LUBA LEAVES HOME (short story collection about her Ukrainian-American Chicago neighborhood), THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION (fiction writing guidebook), and her latest work of fiction, THE MIDWIFE'S TALE: A CHRISTMAS STORY. She's the ...more

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