... adventurous ... Cengel ably captures a complicated region in which citizens make do with few resources, where phones are tapped and many workers aren’t paid, and where the people encountered sometimes seek bribes, are pessimistic, or are drunk ... Cengel’s language is precise, and her historical context invites readers in, regardless of their knowledge of former USSR countries. Big risks and moments of gravity make From Chernobyl with Love both human and heroic—a satisfying and gutsy memoir.
[Cengel] skips over the redolent notion of a time between propaganda and fake news and leans much more heavily on personal recollections and observations. Cengel was in Ukraine for some key events in the country's recent history...However, the narrative drifts away from these events almost as soon as it alights upon them ... [Cengel's] characterization of her co-workers and interviewees often grates ... More incriminatingly, however, is when Cengel feels that an elderly Jewish GULAG survivor is becoming a little too controlling about how his story is told ... There are memorable sketches of Cengel's brief trips to Moldova and Transnistria, which are rare English-language accounts of those places during the window of time Cengel outlines. As when Cengel tells us about the news stories she covered, these accounts are over just as they were getting started. The reader is plunged back into the details of her personal life ... rarely foregrounds the voices of others, and rarely gives the reader insights into the cultures of Latvia and Ukraine ... Even Chernobyl, though it features prominently in the book's title, is only briefly covered ... Ultimately, From Chernobyl With Love is more illuminating of the American mindset than it is of Latvia and Ukraine, two nations for which the prefix 'post-Soviet' tells only part of their complex stories.
Throughout, Cengel demonstrates a knack for finding compelling stories, including an on-the-ground report from Chernobyl at a time when engineers were still working to cap off the reactor with a cement sarcophagus ... More than her stories, the author has a fine eye for the details of newsroom politics back when newspapers were read and newsrooms were packed with offbeat characters ... Sometimes gonzo, sometimes hard-charging—a welcome report from the front lines in a time of torment and hope.