Inspired by Tolstoy's The Sevastopol Sketches, this English-language debut by Brazilian writer Fraia weaves together stories of a young woman obsessed with climbing Mount Everest, a Peruvian-Brazilian who vanishes into the forest, a young playwright producing a play about the city of Sevastopol and a Russian painter portraying Crimean War soldiers.
Though the three stories in Sevastopol aren’t explicitly connected, together they paint a true portrait of human suffering, equivalent to Tolstoy’s stories of the Crimean War. Fraia redefines the trauma of a physical battle through the lens of his characters’ struggles with nature, culture and the self ... I...was amazed by the visceral transition I had made within the pages ... Fraia’s collection of 'long-short stories' is a much-needed format that feels fully explored, yet at once compact. The text is presented in long paragraphs and frequent section breaks, ending in memorable lines with the white space, allowing the lines to resonate. I want to be skeptical of comparisons here, especially since the allusion of Tolstoy is embedded in the spirit of the text, but it’s easy to conjure writers like Roberto Bolaño, Anna Burns and Denis Johnson engrained in Fraia’s prose. The over-layered voices throughout the book create vast worlds that feel nearly mythic, and all too real. Fraia’s aptness for storytelling in Sevastopol lies within the entrancing matter of human suffering.
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 ... The three pieces in Sevastopol are nicely presented, well-written and atmospheric. Fraia manage[s] 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.
... it shuffles through a selection of pointillist short stories and metafictions ... 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.