Viktor Martinovich

Ozera radosti Lake of Happiness
Novel. Vremya. Russia 2016. 238 pages
Awards: 2020 Best of Fest at LAShorts (WATCH TRAILER)

The fate of badly treated Belarus told as a moving coming of age story. Young and strong, Yasya wends her wondrous way between the sleeping Tsarina Agna and the lunar crater Lacus Gaudii, struggling to get out of her messed-up life and into a more human, even if not brighter, future.

Yasya grows up in Minsk. She is the daughter of a Belarusian oligarch and government minister. But the privileged life has a reverse effect on Yasya. Since the death of her mother, her father‘s only interests are looking after himself, his business and his lover. Yasya is pushed off to a boarding school where the only friendly person is a student jobbing as a door-keeper. One night he shows her the lunar crater Lacus Gaudii, the Lake of Happiness , and tells her she should always think about it when she is alone, unhappy and is mis- sing her mother.

Treated as a stranger in her father‘s house, Yasya has to live in a shed on the estate while studying at university as her father will not pay for her up-keep. On the surface Yasya behaves respectfully to him, but inside her rebellion is beginning to simmer. The adversity and unjustness that she is subjected to hit her very hard, based as they are on nonsensical rejections “from above“. To pay off the state-sponsored university fees she is sent to work in the country where she meets the student with the Lacus Gaudii again who is now a geologist and in charge of archaeological excavations. She also visits the local museum where she sees the mummy of the so-called Sleeping Tsarina, considered to be the mother and protectress of Belarus.

And now the silent and patient Yasya explodes into an angry young woman who finally makes her opinions known. There is, however, no room for peo- ple like her in present-day Belarus and Yasya escapes to Moscow where she ends up in the red-light district. The easy freedom promised by big-brother Russia turns out to be a cliché. A scholarship for the Vilnius University seems to offer her a chance for the future, though even here her origins catch up with her. She is obliged to return to Minsk where she ends up as an insigni- ficant sales-woman in a kiosk. No triumph, no grand finale. But on making her own way through life Yasya has found humanity in the most unlikely pla- ces and at the same time discovered her own sensitive heart.

After the staggeringly astute debut novel PARANOIA and the crazy dystopia MOVA, this is a mature work brimming with realistic life-experiences, full of empathy with the humiliated and insulted, but also with an incorruptible, sober view without illusion of the reality of a dictatorship in Europe.