While the nominal focus here is on the aftereffects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the author's visit to Ukraine and meetings with its people are of equal importance. Cheney's (Writing/Connecticut Coll.) visit to Kiev began in December 1991, just as Gorbachev was announcing the collapse of the Soviet Union. An unofficial observer, he depended on the hospitality of ordinary citizens and thus saw a side of day-to- day life few foreigners see. Not even his annoyingly smart- mouthed style and hipper-than-thou attitude entirely undercut the sharpness of his observations of Kiev and its people (everyone carries plastic shopping bags; food, except for meat, is cheap but there is little variety; there are no real taxis, but it is easy to get a private car to take you somewhere for a few dollars). So when he begins to talk to those who know something of the nuclear disaster, he has earned enough credibility that his points are telling. The Soviet government spun a massive cover-up campaign almost the instant it learned of what had happened in Chernobyl, and the full extent of the disaster is only now coming to light. Radiation-linked illness is epidemic around Kiev, as much in heightened susceptibility to normal contagious diseases as in increases in cancer and other textbook symptoms. Ambient radiation levels remain well above those considered safe elsewhere in the world. These facts have been described by others, but Cheney's portraits of the people affected by them put them in perspective and give them a memorable poignancy as the victims describe everything from homeless wandering after the explosion to the loss of simple pleasures such as lying in the grass or swimming in the river. A useful and affecting look at the aftermath of a disaster we are only now beginning to understand.