On Our Shelves Now
Powerful, off-beat stories about women living in the shadow of the now-frozen, now-thawing war in Ukraine
Out of the impoverished coal regions of Ukraine known as the Donbass, where Russian secret military intervention coexists with banditry and insurgency, the women of Yevgenia Belorusets’s captivating collection of stories emerge from the ruins of a war, still being waged on and off, ever since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. Through a series of unexpected encounters, we are pulled into the ordinary lives of these anonymous women: a florist, a cosmetologist, card players, readers of horoscopes, the unemployed, and a witch who catches newborns with a mitt. One refugee tries unsuccessfully to leave her broken umbrella behind as if it were a sick relative; a private caregiver in a disputed zone saves her elderly charge from the angel of death; a woman sits down on International Women’s Day and can no longer stand up; a soldier decides to marry war. Belorusets threads these tales of ebullient survival with a mix of humor, verisimilitude, the undramatic, and a profound Gogolian irony. She also weaves in twenty-three photographs that, in lyrical and historical counterpoint, form their own remarkable visual narrative.
About the Author
Yevgenia Belorusets is a Ukrainian writer, artist, and photographer who lives between Kyiv and Berlin. She is the author of the “unsettling and illuminating” (Washington Post) collection of stories Lucky Breaks and the cycle of lectures Modern Animal (ISOLARII). Her photographic work has been shown in the Ukrainian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015 and 2022. She is a member of the Hudrada curatorial collective and cofounder of Prostory, a journal for literature, art, and politics.
Eugene Ostashevsky is a poet, translator, and scholar. He is the author of The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of Pi and The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza. He teaches in the Liberal Studies program at NYU.
Lucky Breaks is a book in Russian about the war in Ukraine that does not describe combat operations and that forbears to generalize in any way. The protagonists, many of whom are refugees, think of themselves as has-beens. To be, like one of them, a woman formerly from Alchevsk, in the contested Luhansk region, becomes the support structure for a new identity: an identity of which all we know is that it’s irreversible, the world will never go back to being what it was. This is the point at which the tender and terrible stories of Yevgenia Belorusets, where bogeyman tales of childhood dress in the language of Jean Genet, and the documentary dilates into the epic, become the history we all have in common.
— Maria Stepanova - Music & Literature
A daring, unsettling book about displaced women telling luminous stories to survive the darkness that surrounds them.
— Jenny Offill
Belorusets, who came to fiction from photojournalism (her own images appear in the book), excels at building stories that serve as striking snapshots of lives—strange, beautiful, and absent the interpretative context that might render them neater and less unsettling. As it is, this singular collection brings Ukraine, “the land of residual phenomena,” entirely to life.
Belorusets is interested in the histories of the defeated, of the unseen and unheard, and above all in the experiences of eastern Ukrainian women in wartime. [Her] willingness to exist between document and fiction is daring, even provocative. This is a moment when facts are both utterly compromised and vastly overvalued—asked to do all the work of politics, to justify whole worldviews with single data points. Belorusets, by contrast, is for plurality, subjectivity, a kind of narrative democracy. She wants us to remember that even documentary photographs and factual narratives are determined, and sometimes distorted, by the worldview that shaped them.
— Sophie Pinkham - The Baffler
Belorusets, a documentary photographer and activist, captures the extraordinary lives of ordinary Ukrainian women in her arresting fiction debut, a story collection. The brief entries survey lives upended by the political and military turmoil over the past two decades... Two of Belorusets’s photo series supplement her writing, but her words speak for themselves. The combination makes for a powerful exercise.
— Publishers Weekly
In Yevgenia Belorusets's collection of short stories, Lucky Breaks, the machine-gun is fired and the mortar explodes, but offstage. Her stories are about anonymous women who trace new existences or disappear in the fog and ruins of the frozen conflict.
— Julian Evans - TLS
Against the present and looming risk of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, [Belorusets] produces an especially unsettling awareness of the myriad ways in which imagination walks hand in hand with violent reality.
— Bryan Karentnyk - Financial Times
If Isaac Babel and the Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich had offspring.
— Claire Messud - Harper's
A polyphonic portrait of a resilient society under siege.
— Ali Kinsella - World Literature Today
…hackle-raising fairytales of women set adrift, their homeland torn out at the roots.
— John Domini - Brooklyn Rail