A wrenching novel, its UkrainianAmerican author's first, depicts in plaintive detail the consequences of the 1986 nuclear power plant catastrophe at ``Chornobyl.'' Zabytko focuses on two women: widowed Marusia Petrenko, who lives in the village of Starylis with her son Yurko's family, and stays on tending to Yurko (an electrician at Chornobyl) while he lies dying of radiation poisoning, and his mercurial (and adulterous) wife Zosia escapes with their young children to the comparative safety of Moscow. The best pages detail Marusia's stubborn return to Starylis (now a ``dead zone''), where she replants her garden, rings the bells in an abandoned church, and laboriously bonds with the handful of neighbors who gradually return ``home'' to die. ``The Sky Unwashed'' tells its harrowing story with quiet compassion (even the selfish Zosia proves capable of both decency and heroism) and moving empathy. Marusia is a wonderfully realized character, and the images of devastation with which she stoically grapples and eventually makes her peace are quite literally unforgettable.