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Under a crimson dawn sky Artyom Telvatnikov stands in a field of cows his fingertips glistening with warm blood that streams from their earsIt is April 1986 and ten miles away above the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant clusters of sparks fill the air inflaming the final years of the Soviet Union inciting its citizens to actions of brutality mystery and terrible beauty Grigory a surgeon working in the wake of the disaster in a place where all natural order has been distorted is forced to uestion everything he has known In Moscow his estranged wife Maria a former dissident struggles to free herself from the constraints imposed upon her by the state Her nephew Yevgeni is a nine year old piano prodigy whose sense of rhythm is rapidly erodingIn All That Is Solid Melts into Air Darragh McKeon blends an array of these and other characters into a strikingly visceral portrait of a place and a people in the midst of terrifying changePraise for All That is Solid Melts into Air“This daring and ambitious novel blends historical epic and love story with a detailed and moving description of the Chernobyl disaster and the fall of the Soviet Union Darragh McKeon handles the struggles of his characters with care and compassion and creates a book rich with resonance far beyond its historical moment” —Colm Tóibín“Brilliantly imagined in its harrowing account of the Chernobyl disaster and exhilarating in its sweep All That is Solid Melts Into Air is a debut to rattle all the windows and open up the ventricles of the heart McKeon creates a thrilling appearance of ease while he delves deep and forges new territory for the contemporary novel The book is daring exhilarating generous and beautifully written History is rendered here as a rising choir of contradictory demands McKeon probes the forgotten corners of human experience and makes them properly valuable Throughout it all he writes with an ear for the uiet captivations of the human heart All That is Solid Melts into Air marks the beginning of a truly significant career I cannot say it loud enough McKeon is here to stay” —Colum McCann“Darragh McKeon has crafted a uietly monumental portrait of Soviet particulars and human universals The confidence insight and above all deep feeling mark All That is Solid Melts into Air as an astounding debut” —Charles Foran


10 thoughts on “All That is Solid Melts into Air

  1. says:

    PsssstThis is now available April 29It took me a long time to read this book There's a lot going on here and it reuires some concentration to keep track of all the characters in various locations as they weave in and out of each other's lives Along with an account of the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster we also follow the lives of other Soviet citizens in the years leading up to the revolution that shattered the Iron Curtain We see the unrest and the despair resulting from a life under a regime that uses fear tactics to keep people from speaking the truth or fighting the system Here in the US we love to criticize our government and we're fortunate to have the right to do so We're also fortunate to have a government with limited powers In his portrayal of Soviet life McKeon gives us a taste of what it's like to live under a government that controls every aspect of one's life They assign you a career and a living space withhold vital information from the public and punish even the smallest attempts at self determinationWhen I sat down to write my review and looked over the passages I had marked I was reminded of how masterful Darragh McKeon is at creating striking imagery even for the most simple of events For example when Maria is remembering the day her marriage to Grigory ended and she left their apartment for the last time here is the picture “She can still see the way he stood in their small vestibule between the large mirror on the wall and the small oval one on the coat stand Both mirrors bounced his reflection between them so that before closing the door for the last time Maria found herself leaving not just him but an endless multitude of him Standing there his shoulders wrapped in heartbreak” page 257 Alina is a single mother relegated to a life of drudgery taking in laundry and ironing to make ends meet This is what her meltdown looks like “she remembers she's left the iron on She moves to unplug it does so and leans against the counter A shirtsleeve lifts in a stream of breeze and she turns to the freshly pressed shirts lined up on their hangers and reaches over and drags them all down dropping with them She grabs the whole bunch of them and wrings them into a bundle and bites them bites down hard stifling a scream and they lie there twisted until Maria comes home” page 332There are treasures like this sprinkled throughout the story and for me these images were a large part of what made the book worth reading I am not fond of novels written in present tense and that's probably my only serious criticism of the book I do still recommend it though because McKeon's writing was masterful enough to help me overcome my distaste for the verb tense I thought the ending was a little too pat although I can understand McKeon's desire to inject some positivity and hope into what is otherwise a bleak narrative The redemption to be found in this story is in the way it shows that amid the most dire hopeless circumstances there are people whose basic humanity compels them to be kind even when it means putting themselves at great peril


  2. says:

    All That is Solid Melts into Air is a book unlike any other featuring a shocking plot and lovable characters each of whom find their lives disrupted in ways stranger than fiction


  3. says:

    All that is Solid Melts into Air tells the story of the Soviet Union in 1986 A nine year old piano prodigy continuously falling victim to bullies a surgeon throwing himself into his work to avoid the emotion pain of a failed marriage a former dissident struggling to free herself from political constraints Everyday Russians trying to make life work in this repressed state; that was until a disaster in Ukraine changes thingsMost people who know me know that I am a fan of Russian literature and books set in Russia The Cold War years are of particular interest to me the social and political unrest makes for a haunting backdrop for great story telling When I head that All that is Solid Melts into Air was this year’s answer to A Constellation of Vital Phenomena it was all I needed to buy this book While reading the book I found out the novel centred around the Chernobyl nuclear accident which just gave that extra element to turn this into a new favouriteI have never read a novel about the Chernobyl disaster before and I am struggling to think of other books that focus on this historical event So I was pleased to have a new insight on a situation I hope to never experience This was a beautiful and haunting tale of Russians living life and the connections they make along the way However little gems like the controversial idea of implementing safety measure pre disaster and the Soviet Union’s efforts to cover the accident up really helped make this novel greatThe title is taken from a line in The Communist Manifesto which is uoted before the novel kicks off This is an interesting uote to add not just to give a reference to the title but the implications of what to expect within the novel As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels theorise in their political manifesto “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”“All that is solid melts into air all that is holy is profaned and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind” – Karl Marx The Communist ManifestoWhile this is a strong character driven novel it is not the personal but political transgressions that stood out for me All that is Solid Melts into Air is set in a time where the Iron Curtain is beginning to collapse; things are drastically changing and then the disaster involving the Chernobyl Power Plant throws the people into civil unrest While the book focuses on a few characters the overall theme is one of class struggles The Russian people struggling against the Soviet government; the fear and repression rules stronger than the radioactive atmosphere An interesting concept considering the communist society that Marx wrote about was nothing like the political government at the timeI am a little sad to see this gem has remained under the radar; All that is Solid Melts into Air deserves so much attention Despite that horrific setting this is a novel of great beauty with visceral portrayals of both people and places The struggle the people go through is handled with tender care and empathy It is hard to believe that Darragh McKeon is a debut author; much like Anthony Marra I am eagerly awaiting his next novel All that is Solid Melts into Air is a new favourite and you can expect it to be near the top of my ‘best of 2014’ listThis review originally appeared on my blog


  4. says:

    I loved this book which is probably a surprising response to a book that tells the story of the people who lived around Chernobyl at the time of the meltdown The story of Soviet sheer incompetence is mind boggling This is fiction but describes what happened to people living around the failed nuclear reactor The oppression of the Soviet system is described in numbing detail Yet the humanity of the characters shines through It is a tribute to the human spirit that some survived this disaster and the Soviet regime Readers can't help but think of the resistance to the current Russian invasion of the Ukraine a country whose people I've met and known are fiercely nationalist Russian history is full of tragic sagas as is the Ukraine The link with Ireland is that for decades the Irish have had a charity called Chernobyl Children the dark theme this is a hopeful book


  5. says:

    This books reminded me a lot of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena only set in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster instead of the Chechen war The book has the same dark themes and a similar structure of interlocking threads moving in circles around each other and through time a doctor sent to deal with the fallout his ex wife working in a factory that could benefit from some organized labor her nephew who could become a piano prodigy if it were a different time and a different place a family uprooted by the hanging clouds of radiation I don't really know what else to say about this book except I never would have guessed that someone could write about a nuclear meltdown with such beautiful language McKeon can write and this book is worth your time for his prose alone Even when he's describing horrific scenes soldiers killing pets exposed to radiation or what it's like to die from radiation poisoning it sticks with you His description of the actual explosion itself deserves an award There are times when the main threads move a little slowly and I suspect that I may have been moved a little if I had context this is as much my fault as the author's I just know so little about the years leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union


  6. says:

    Wow This was an incredible read lush lyrical prose on a sentence by sentence level with breathtaking imagery and description The stories of the four main characters were introduced separately but woven together like a fine tapestryI can’t say enough about this book In fact I don’t know why it didn’t garner higher acclaim and far reviews than it did For me it was THAT good and shed such a necessary light on a topic that is still covered up today despite its lasting repercussions the Chernobyl nuclear disasterI was in the eighth grade when the event occurred in 1986 so – naturally as a 13 year old interested mostly in boys it wasn’t on my radar Of course I’d heard about it but even years later the name would pop up yet with no real conversation of the horrors resulting from the event mostly because its realities had been purposely hiddendisguised from public consciousness This fictional novel exposes those realities and had me running to the Internet to look up every possible documentary and You Tube video about its subject That readers is testament to an author who has done his job After my own research I am still in shock about the things I didn’t knowThis book also delves into the oppression of living under Communist rule and takes place three years before the Berlin Wall comes down; it sheds light on the political unrest and the impact of politics on personal lives but does so without being preachy or text booky I'm not hugely political I’ve said it before but I will repeat myself historical fiction like this should be mandatory reading in high school classrooms What a fabulous way to introduce significant historical events and political ideologies in an engaging BOOK with fully developed characters its own love story a story of family relationships a story of duty tofear of country and dreams It’s all about dreaming big as wellMy only regret that it took me so long to get to this book which has been on my shelf since it came out in 2014 I can't wait to see what this author writes next I am off to one heck of a start with my reading this year Three cheers


  7. says:

    I don't want to totally trash this book because it was really well written but I don't understand how someone can take a topic as fascinating as Chernobyl and how it caused a fundamental crack in the Soviet state and make it unbearably boring I cared about one of the roughly ten or so featured characters mainly because most were given almost no depth or conclusion and those that were given something to work with were completely unfulfilling I think it was well researched especially in terms of the Chernobyl cleanup and the propaganda spread to keep the news out of the Russian press but this is fiction and the depth of the storycharacters came nowhere near the depth of the facts I always finish everything I read but this took me so long not because it was challenging or long but because I just didn't care enough about it which is too bad I was really looking forward to it Also I felt at times that it was trying really hard to be deep and profound but it was lacking the sincerity that actual deepprofound literature possesses


  8. says:

    There has always been something mysterious about Russia Something about this vast country far beyond the comprehension of most Europeans which spans Europe and Asia Even so when one looks at the period of the Soviet Union We still know very little about what happened behind the Iron Curtain There are few other countries which feel both so removed from our lives other than maybe China and of course North Korea Its a daring move therefore for a writer particularly a debut novelist to set a book in this strange world flying straight in the face of that old adage to write what you knowSet during 1986 around the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster it follows effectively two families caught up in larger events and a larger machine which is undoubtedly in its death throes It paints a harsh picture of the reality of life under the Soviet regime The fear with which people live The knowledge of what happens to those who dare to stick their heads above the parapet and uestion things Even 9 year old Yevgeni knows better than to ask uestions about certain things The complete lack of value placed on people's lives by the regime Appearances are far important than a few million lives All this is conveyed through beautiful prose which manages to capture this strange landscape The descriptions of the effect of the radiation both on people and the landscape are particularly poignant The harsh white light The way the forest turned bright red almost as if it was bleeding They are not scenes any of us will ever have seen yet McKeon paints them before our eyes I thoroughly enjoyed this book and once I got past the first 50 pages which I was really too tired to try and read and therefore felt like a slog I found myself swept along by the narrative I lost two mornings entirely to this wonderful debut novel Yet for all that I find there is something holding me back from awarding it 5 stars Something I can't uite put my finger on I can't fault this book The descriptive powers of McKeon are wonderful and the characters are all well developed It is an excellent debut novel with none of the usual pitfalls of debut novels No bum notes No superfluous story lines the attempts to cram in every idea for a book they've ever had And still a little voice says no to 5 starsI can't explain this reticence on my part and really isn't fair on what is an excellent book 4 stars or 5 stars I'll still be recommending this to everyone I know


  9. says:

    Need to think over my feelings on this one Right now it's a 35 for me It was enjoyable but the pacing was strange and uite honestly distracting


  10. says:

    I was excited to read this as many of my GR friends rated it four or five stars For some reason it just didn't resonate with me I found it hard to get into and the characters seemed thinly fleshed out and hard to like The book was hard going for me I had to keep picking it back up to finish it I probably would have stopped reading halfway through were it not for the fact it was a uarterly read by one of my groups here The three stars reflect the portrayal of the Chernobyl incident which I found interesting especially the incompetence and lack of caring shown by the government