Saturday, August 06, 2022

Lucky Breaks


Lucky Breaks / Yevgenia Belorusets
trans. from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky
NY: New Directions, c2022.
112 p.

This is the latest and most well known Ukrainian book of this year -- it's a collection of short stories, some nearly vignettes, that follow the lives of the women of Eastern Ukraine -- the Donbas area, specifically, an area that has been under Russian occupation since 2014. 

Belorusets is a photojournalist who lives between Kyiv and Berlin, and this book includes some of her photographs of daily life in the Donbas. You can see some of these photos on the publisher's page for this book.  They illustrate the life that goes on even under war and occupation, but the stories stand alone without needing to refer to the images. 

The stories all look at ways in which women face the everyday under these circumstances. Many flee to other parts of Ukraine, Kyiv in particular, but they end up having to take any work they can find; professors become office cleaning ladies, and so forth. Women in feminine occupations like cosmetologists or florists struggle and disappear, as noted by a dispassionate narrator. The stories expand on life under occupation but don't necessarily grapple directly with it. One story has the narrator's sister approaching soldiers, but most don't speak directly to the day to day wartime realities as much as to the effects on self-awareness, the sense of identity, and the imagination itself. 

They are brief, unsettling and powerful stories. This collection was fascinating, and definitely worth picking up if you are interested in learning more about the Eastern regions of Ukraine. Many of the translations from Ukrainian and Russian are from the Western regions, as those areas have had longer connections to European literary circles, so it's great to see this one added to those available in English. It's sharp, contemporary, and very timely. 

The only drawback to this book, for me, was that it was published in a miniscule typeface, so hard to read. I've been recommending the ebook version for my library users to make it easier on the eyes. But other than that physical issue, I'd recommend this one to all. 

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