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Fiction About Lives in Ukraine

While a steady stream of disturbing news continues to come from Ukraine, new works of fiction highlight the ways in which lives there have been transformed by conflict. On this week’s podcast, the critic Jennifer Wilson talks about two books, including the story collection “Lucky Breaks,” by Yevgenia Belorusets, translated by Eugene Ostashevsky.

“Belorusets has been compared to Gogol in these stories,” Wilson says. “There’s a certain kind of supernatural quality to them. I think anyone looking to these books for a play-by-play of the conflict is going to be disappointed for that reason, but I think delighted in other ways.”

Ben McGrath visits the podcast to talk about his new book, “Riverman: An American Odyssey,” which tells the story of Dick Conant, a troubled and charismatic man who disappeared while on a canoe trip from New York to Florida. Conant was in his 60s when McGrath met him, and had spent many years questing on various waterways.

“What he learned was that there wasn’t really anything he was going to find out about himself that was going to improve things, and that the secret to finding happiness was to turn his lens outward,” McGrath says. “Rather than, in the Thoreauvian model, retreating to Walden Pond and staring into his reflection, he decided to go out into the world and to keep seeing new places and meeting new people; and by doing that, keep himself sufficiently occupied that he didn’t have to struggle too much with worrying about who he was and what his own problems were.”

Also on this week’s episode, Elizabeth Harris has news from the literary world; and Lauren Christensen and MJ Franklin talk about what they’ve been reading. John Williams is the host.

Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to books@nytimes.com.

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