... beautifully translated ... A near-invisible narrator recurs, and most pieces have women as their protagonists. Many of them have been displaced by the war, often to Kyiv from areas with heavy fighting in 2014. The scale of their worlds is largely domestic, but through Belorusets’s lens, small actions and encounters take on the qualities of myth ... Trauma lingers in the interstices of the everyday, only sometimes announcing itself. The effect, shocking, can also take on a register of searing dark comedy ... The effect is rather as if Isaac Babel and the Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich had offspring.
... a slim but meaty set of stories. Both unsettling and illuminating, altogether it seems no less than excellent ... Overall, Belorusets strikes an impressive balance between the pains of the moment and the timeless coping mechanisms known as humor and imagination ... Many of the 32 pieces run just a couple pages, but they rise to cumulative power; in effect, these women finish one another’s sentences. Belorusets shifts from third person to second, and works in first as well, while sustaining the same menace in every perspective ... Yet even as the historical circumstances come into focus, key elements remain indistinct. Photos pop up with little relation to the events around them, more unsettling than clarifying, and a few seem deliberately blurred ... If Lucky Breaks feels like an essential document of our latest European war, it’s because Belorusets steers clear of straightforward documentary.
This juxtaposition of the pedestrian and the cataclysmic lends the sketches their sense of irreality, or what Ms. Belorusets calls 'that clinging bewilderment, the distractedness that does not let go.' However unstable or absurdist it may appear, though, one vital aspect of daily living in Lucky Breaks is its insistence on continuing.Often, the writing turns tender and wistful. Some stories are about the sudden forging of close friendships, which the characters find just as unaccountable as war, but now unaccountably joyous. This, too, is the nature of a world defined by unpredictability.
... immediate and eccentric stories ... lucid English translation ... In documenting the bizarre twists and fragmentary turns inherent throughout these stories of loss and trauma, Belorusets draws on the grotesquerie of Nikolai Gogol’s fantasies and the absurdist gallows humour of Daniil Kharms, whose haunting vignettes responded so well to the terror and seeming unreality of life in the Soviet Union. Yet against the alarming backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week, these combinations produce an especially unsettling awareness of the myriad ways in which imagination walks hand in hand with violent reality ... In describing the effects of one of the most brutal conflicts to have occurred during — and to be in part aided by — the age of fake news, Lucky Breaks asks essential questions about the ethical implications of blurring the boundary between fiction and reality ... a perverse logic but an effective one — one that lays bare the device of so much manufactured reality at the heart of the war.
... [an] excellent translation ... By emphasizing the fact of division while occluding the proper names and political positions that are usually taken to form the substance of such division, Belorusets draws our bitter attention to the way that war can give lost societies and people a sense of relief, self-love, purpose. In this reading, war is not a manifestation of some specific conflict but rather a way of life—an end rather than a means ... there is an element of ethnography in Belorusets’s approach, but it is intentionally undermined by the trappings of fiction. This distinguishes her work from that of Svetlana Alexievich, despite some superficial similarities; Alexievich’s work, especially as presented in translation, relies heavily on the claim of factuality, despite her extensive interventions in the material she collects during interviews. Belorusets rejects the idea that an authoritative, objective ethnographer can arrive at some empirical truth about the objects of her study ... Lucky Breaks was originally published in 2018, but it is still excruciatingly topical.
Some stories adopt an overtly symbolic register, like the darkly humorous 'The Stars,' in which a weekly horoscope informs townspeople when it’s safe to venture outside and when they should 'seek seclusion and privacy' from the shellings above. Some are masterfully imbued with a sense of loss—such as 'The Florist,' in which a woman as beautiful as her flowers disappears without explanation, presumably 'into the fields and joined the partisans.' Though the stories’ brevity occasionally dissatisfies, it also renders each one precious—like a gut punch, full of simple observations that quickly become devastating. 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 ... Striking and original.
Belorusets, a documentary photographer and activist, captures the extraordinary lives of ordinary Ukrainian women in her arresting fiction debut, a story collection ... Two of Belorusets’s photo series supplement her writing, but her words speak for themselves. The combination makes for a powerful exercise.