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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Emilio Fraia

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To purchase Sevastopol

Title: Sevastopol
Author: Emilio Fraia
Genre: Stories
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 117 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Sevastopol - US
Sevastopol - UK
Sevastopol - Canada
directly from: New Directions (US)
directly from: lolli editions (UK)
  • Portuguese title: Sebastopol
  • Translated by Zoë Perry

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Our Assessment:

B+ : three solid story-telling variations

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 16/3/2021 .
TLS . 6/8/2021 Adam Morris
Wall St. Journal . 18/6/2021 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "These reflective, self-aware tales eschew linear narration in favor of the characters' somewhat understated thematic musings. In the end, the reader is left to piece together the sketches in this promising if somewhat underwhelming triptych on the nature of storytelling." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Whereas Tolstoy's sketches are joined by the thematics of war, Fraia's are distinct and mostly unrelated. His triptych is linked instead by a notion derived from his reading of Tolstoy: that storytelling is a survival mechanism. Sevastopol's three tales are each beguilingly dreamlike, but they are also uneven in quality." - Adam Morris, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The fragmentary character of this allusive, mercurial book is such that, when you finish it, you have an assortment of eye-catching puzzle pieces but no clear sense of how they're meant to go together." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Emilio Fraia's Sevastopol clearly alludes to Leo Tolstoy's Sevastopol Sketches, not just in its title but in its composition, with three pieces titled (as in the Tolstoy) 'December', 'May', and August' -- even as otherwise any connections are far less obvious; the stories in Sevastopol are not scenes of war, and they are not set around the Crimean locale; only in the final story does the place and time Tolstoy described figure in any significant way.
       Sevastopol is very much about story-telling. The narrators of 'December' and 'May' each recount significant experiences from their lives but in each a separate story also figures prominently, stories within the stories: in 'December' the narrator comes across a video that clearly is based on her life yet in which: "Everything was inaccurate", while in 'August' the narrator, Nina, describes a theater-project she long worked on (featuring a painter, and set in nineteenth century Sevastopol). So also 'May' -- written in the third person -- first focuses on the mysterious disappearance of Adán but then repeatedly turns to Adán's own story-telling.
       In all three pieces there are also other incidental examples of stories being told; typically, in 'August', Nina describes being at an Alcoholics Anonymous-type support group and listening to one woman, whose testimony switches back and forth between her family situation and "a story about the ocean, the waves"; the way: "The stories ran in parallel, never meeting" is reflected in Sevastopol as well, in both the whole and its parts.
       'December' is narrated by Lena, a woman who had been a mountain climber; her project (as she called it) had been: "to reach the summit of the highest mountains of each of the seven continents". When only in her early twenties she had already had considerable success. Scaling Everest, however, everything changed. Her story was then presented to the public -- recorded by the photographer and documentary filmmaker Gino, recounted in Reader's Digest and National Geographic, and also by her:

I went out and told my story. I gave interviews. I did more than one TED talk. I made money. I became a successful speaker, someone who had beat the odds, overcome adversity, and moved forward with her head held high.
       When Lena comes across Gino's video-version of her story, part of her sees it as a betrayal: "How could someone have twisted my story so horribly ?" Yet ultimately she's led to wonder:
(W)hat's the difference between the story in this video of yours and the one I've told myself for so long ? Is there even a difference, in the end ?
       'May' is set in an out-of-the-way failed countryside inn -- "an all-but-abandoned-spot in the middle of nowhere, drowning in the landscape, looking like it was about to get swallowed by the surrounding wilderness". The owner, Nilo, clings on to it in its final collapse. When a couple arrived, looking for a place to stay, he offered them a room; the wife, Veronica, soon flees, but the man, Adán, stays for two weeks -- before suddenly disappearing. The story moves back and forth between the present-moment search for Adán, and the story Adán has to tell, from his past.
       In 'August' a young woman, Nadia, describes getting involved with the work of aging, theater-obsessed Klaus, helping him with a play-project. Set in 1855:
It's about the life of a painter, Bogdan Trunov, a man who reached his heyday during the war years and then died young. He left behind many paintings, which have only fairly recently been discovered. What's most fascinating, Klaus said, is the way Trunov was always breathing the leaden air of war -- he was up to his neck in it -- but the war, the war itself, never appeared in his paintings.
       The project is an episode in her life. She quits her job to devote herself to it, and sees it through, but Klaus -- and she -- then also move on. Even so, the story -- in and of the play -- remain with her. As she notes, reflecting on all this: "People always tell the same stories, even when they try to tell new stories".
       Fraia suggests story-telling -- the stories we tell ourselves, and of ourselves -- is both fundamental and very basic. We cling and return to it, to try to impose some order and make some sense: as Lena put it:
I did what people do all the time. Tell stories, retell them, freeze them in time, try to make sense of them. This is me, I exist, this is my story, this happened to me
       But story-telling only gets us so far. As Adán suggests:
(P)eople have just two or three stories in their lives. You won't learn anything from it. No one learns anything from any story.
       The three pieces in Sevastopol are nicely presented, well-written and atmospheric. Fraia manage to keep the common theme of story-telling as under-current, not drowning his stories in it (even as it is omnipresent), and the interweaving back-and-forth in each of the tales is very effective. It makes for a solid little volume -- fine reading.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 June 2021

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Sevastopol: Reviews: Emilio Fraia: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Brazilian author Emilio Fraia was born in 1982.

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© 2021 the complete review

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