cover image Sevastopol


Emilio Fraia, trans. from the Portuguese by Zoë Perry. New Directions, $14.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3092-6

Three stories track the wanderings of contemporary Brazilians in Fraia’s subtle and melancholy English-language debut, a collection inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Sketches. In “December,” the 20-something Lena tries to avoid a life of stultifying office work by becoming the first Brazilian woman to climb the tallest peak on every continent, with her lover Gino, a photographer, accompanying her on an ascent of Mount Everest. In “May,” a man goes missing while staying at a run-down countryside inn. Before his disappearance, he tells a meandering story of his life in Lima, Peru, in the 1980s, a time when “the city’s air was poisonous.” And in “August,” an aimless young woman teams up with Klaus, an older theater director, to write a play about a 19th-century Russian painter, though the lonely Klaus may really just be “seeking some kind of accomplice in his sadness.” Situations and motifs recur within and between the stories; for example, a ritual of mountaintop sacrifice described in “May” echoes the ordeal undergone by Lena and other climbers in “December.” 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. (June)