Baba Dunja is an indomitable woman. She won’t let anything as trifling as a major nuclear disaster move her from her home. So back she moved, in to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and carried on growing her vegetables as if nothing had happened. I’ve been fascinated by the story of women like her ever since I saw a documentary about it. Now I got to read the novel. It seems there were plenty of reasons for people to move back into the Dead Zone, but people tended to move back on their own.
So it isn’t a surprise that Baba Dunja is lonely too. She misses her daughter and has never even met her granddaughter in faraway Germany. She feels its simply to far for her, and too dangerous for her granddaughter.
Lonely, dangerous, but also strangely idyllic, this little village of old biddies in the death zone. Until a younger man and his very young daughter show up looking for a house, and everything changes:
It’s not safe for them to move in, or for the fragile community, either. This is the turning point in the story that brings life from the outside world right into the Dead Zone, with violent and tragic consequences.
Europa Editions is doing a great job of showing that translated literature can be both a window on another world fun and highly entertaining; they also published the story of another woman fighting against impossible odds oceans away, Euridice Gusmao. It’s a pleasure to see Alina Bronsky’s novel in Tim Mohr’s translation from German on the Dublin Literary Award longlist. The shortlist is out next month; let’s hope Baba Dunja makes it past those judges, too!