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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Gudrun Pausewang
Age Range: 12+
Fourteen-year-old Janna's parents have always protested against nuclear power, particularly after the Chernobyl disaster, but nothing could prepare the family for when a leak occurs at the Grafenrheinfeld power station near their home. With her parents away and her grandparents on holiday, Janna is left alone to look after her little brother Uli. As the radioactive fall-out gets closer and the government’s loss of control of the situation results in social order beginning to breakdown as panic ensues, Janna and Uli flee on their bicycles to join the utter chaos as the contaminating cloud of radiation comes ever closer. In a world that has gone mad with fear, Janna must make decisions which will mean life or death.
Fall-Out is an extraordinarily powerful and at times brutal story from one of Germany's most celebrated writers for young people Gudrun Pausewang (1928-2020). Pausewang’s hard-hitting analysis accurately portrays the human tendency to deny reality whilst stubbornly clinging to an illusion of normality. This is borne out by the reaction of Janna’s Aunt Helga who wants her niece to cover her hairless head and to keep her parents in the dark as to what has happened to their son and his family as well as Janna’s grandparents’ complete denial of the severity of the situation when they return home.
Pausewang also shows the worst of human nature when faced with a terrible disaster; their cruelty as they fight for survival and their callousness towards those who survived. Janna becomes a `hibakusha’ (a Japanese term applied to Hiroshima survivors). She and her fellow survivors, are mere statistics and are causing a social problem. They are regarded with both pity and fear by those who have not been affected by the nuclear accident. The novel also shines a light on those selfless acts of kindness of individuals who help others at considerable risk to their own lives.
Janna’s sheer numbness at what she has suffered turns to anger. She has become a witness to a terrible catastrophe and by defiantly refusing to cover her head she is determined everyone should know the full horror of what has happened.
With an excellent translation from award-winning translator Patricia Crampton (1925-2016), this novel is not an easy read, nevertheless, it is one that should be read by everyone. Chernobyl happened; what Pausewang writes about could happen again.