sexta-feira, 2 de julho de 2021

três leituras

Benjamin Moser na newsletter Urubuquaquá

"I’m excited to announce that New Directions, where I’ve been publishing the works of Clarice Lispector for all these years, has just published Sevastopol by Emilio Fraia. If Graciliano Ramos describes the old, romantic Brazil of a century ago, Emilio Fraia describes something much more like the country that exists today—the country and people I know: people who resemble Lampião and Lieutenant Bezerra far less than they resemble middle-class people anywhere else.

It’s a weird book: three connected stories loosely based on the Sevastopol Stories of Tolstoy. It’s weird because the stories are connected—but how, exactly? And it’s weird because the stories themselves are constantly wrong-footing you. You think you know what’s happening, and then suddenly you realize you don’t. I read the book twice—once when it came out in Portuguese, a few years ago, and once more when I got this new translation, by Zoe Perry. (The translation is excellent, by the way.) I thought I understood it the first time. The second time, I was sure I didn’t. That’s why, though it’s a short book, it’s been bouncing around in my head these last few weeks, and why I’m thinking about reading it one more time.

To give you a taste: one of the stories was published in The New Yorker a couple of years ago, and Fraia has just published something new in The Paris Review, related, kind of, to another one of my favorites, the Uruguayan writer Juan Carlos Onetti. 

Na Southwest Review, Marshall Shord: 

The characters in Sevastopol, Emilio Fraia’s brilliant triptych of stories, are as familiar with the sense of what-could-have-been as with the ache of a phantom limb. Loss defines each of them, and, in a way, is also what keeps them going. They haunt their own lives, seeking out what they have lost, not because they think that finding it will bring back all that has gone, but because they can think of nothing better to do. One way to define a ghost is as a compulsion that has outlived the one who bore it.

Smuggled in under the cover of these stories of, as one character puts it, “lunatics and lost people,” is a portrait of Brazil in precipitous decline, riven by racism, inequality and violence. Fraia provides the reader with only a few outright glimpses of this covert narrative, preferring instead to dress it within the specific context of each story. At the same time, he deploys recurring images—a demon seeking to escape its earthly prison, streets too wide to cross—and a uniform atmosphere of dread to bind the stories into a cohesive whole.

Although they all belong to the upper classes, Fraia’s characters—a mountain climber, a property owner, a young museum worker—feel themselves far from the lives their privilege had promised them. One character thinks about “the big picture, about my generation, crushed by another ten, fifteen years of paralysis.” Another sees her friends “trapped inside office buildings, locked in the struggle for promotion.” São Paulo is described as “a giant space station, a forgotten corner in the vastness of the heavens.” One gets a sense that for these characters—and maybe for everyone— there’s no escape from the nightmare of the modern world.

“December,” the first story, revolves around a young woman named Lena who once dreamed of scaling the highest mountain on each continent. But, after an accident on Everest, she has lost both of her legs. She now makes her living as a motivational speaker, using her loss to inspire others to “overcome adversity.”.

One day, getting some air in her neighborhood, Lena enters an art gallery and comes upon a video installation. The images she sees on the screen are familiar to her: “This was my story.” She does not know the artist and cannot understand how images from her life (“albeit somewhat distorted”) have come to be projected there in front of her. Although she feels a sense of violation at such an intrusion into her private life, the greater issue is that the video itself threatens to become history, thus painting over the narrative that has sustained her—that of perseverance in the face of unimaginable pain.

In the second story, “May,” Nilo (as in, nihilo, nothing) is losing his memory along with his inn in the mountains, both victims of the passage of time. His buildings are falling down, his neighbor is imploring him to sell, and his sense of self is slowly disintegrating..... Two weeks prior to the start of the story, a man and a woman had arrived after driving aimlessly through the wilderness. The woman, Veronica, reluctantly stays for a week before returning to São Paulo, but the man, Adán, hangs around for a time. Before he leaves, Adán tells Nilo his life story—with the caveat that “no one learns anything from any story.” A story is, rather, “a cry for help.” No one could be less qualified to help than poor, bewildered Nilo.

What happens instead is the opposite, an act of reassurance on Adán’s part that the emptiness Nilo feels—that sense of fading away—is not exclusive to him. Although Nilo doesn’t know it then, Adán is preparing to go at that very moment, leaving Nilo to wander the empty halls of his inn, alone again, without even his memories to comfort him.

The final story, “August,” is the most conventional of the three. Nadia (nada, almost) is assisting a has-been dramatist named Klaus in researching his play about a fictional Russian painter. For Nadia it’s a chance at an out from a life which, to that point, has proven underwhelming. She quits her job, despite Klaus’s disapproval (“I’m not paying you a penny more.”), and spends her time diving into the historical milieu of the play when not drinking or taking acid with Klaus. Although Klaus makes, to put it mildly, a worrying totem of the creative lifestyle, she’d still rather sleep on an inflatable air mattress in his crummy apartment (which, delightfully, “looked like a room in Count Dracula’s Castle”) than return to her own apartment filled with reminders of her inconsequential existence—“a pathetic bookshelf,” “a pitiful little landscape.”.

After the play closes (it is an embarrassing flop), Klaus tells Nadia that he is leaving. She is left with no play, no job, and no friend. Her only connection to the world that came before Klaus is a baffling sketch she had shared with him early in their collaboration and which he called “lousy.” The story ends with her tinkering with it again, stuck in a creative loop, telling the same story in different iterations, changing only the setting and the time, because “people always tell the same stories, even when they try to tell new stories.”.

A single human life holds within it an infinite capacity for loss. Thomas Hardy writes of the plight of Michael Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge, “All had gone from him, one after one, either by his fault or by his misfortune.” As Sevastapol masterfully demonstrates, all one can do against time’s attrition is organize the losses into a story of the self. But even that—one’s coherence—is no real bulwark.

No Irish Times, Catherine Taylor: 

Brazilian author Emilio Fraia's Sevastopol consists of three separate stories based loosely on Tolstoy's Sevastopol sketches, which were written out of his experience at the Siege of Sevastopol (1854-55) during the Crimean War. Versions of some of these sketches would later find their way into War and Peace. Fraia emulates Tolstoy's structure -- December, May and August -- for each individual case study of three people at a crisis point in their lives. The result is graceful and melancholic, enhanced by Zoe Perry's subtle translation.

A young woman has a terrible accident in December while mountain climbing in Nepal; the reality of her shifting perspective, her last memories of life without disability, and the relationship she has or may have had with an Italian photographer who documents the incident turn over like leaves in the bottom of a stagnant pond, reluctant to show what is underneath.

Similarity, in May, a Brazilian-Peruvian man disappears from a run-down inn hidden among the eucalyptus of the Brazilian countryside. What is his backstory, and what happened to him? "Things take on a life of their own... objects blend with people, over time they come to life", ruminates the inn's elderly owner. The Sevastopol siege itself becomes the focal point in August. A young playwright in Sao Paulo attempts to stage a production about the city of Sevastopol and the life of a fictional Russian painter who depicted the siege, "always breathing the leaden air of war -- he was up to his neck in it -- but war, the war itself, never appeared in his paitings".

These stories within stories are impeccably realised, and this is another ground-breaking publication from newish Lolli Editions, a small press currently making waves on the international Booker shortlist.

domingo, 27 de junho de 2021

ceticismo metaficcional

Ensaio de Lucas Bandeira de Melo Carvalho sobre o "Sebastopol", na Z Cultural, revista do Programa Avançado de Cultura Contemporânea da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)

“O fundo daquela história […] era verdade; mas, ao transmitir os detalhes, o junker inventava e se vangloriava.” 

Liev Tolstói, “Sebastopol em agosto de 1855” 

Entre 17 de outubro de 1854 e 11 de setembro de 1855, a cidade de Sebastopol, na península da Crimeia, foi palco de um dos episódios mais sangrentos da Guerra da Crimeia (1853-56), entre a Rússia czarista e a aliança liderada pela França de Napoleão III. Enfrentavam-se duas forças imperialistas – as antigas nações da Europa ocidental e a Rússia que se ocidentalizava. Liev Tolstói participou das batalhas e essa experiência serviu de base para três contos longos, publicados em 1855 como Crônicas de Sebastopol e que seriam retomados em cenas de Guerra e paz (1869). A experiência também serviu para uma transformação em Tolstói. Diante dos horrores da guerra, o escritor, cuja literatura discute e ao mesmo tempo é veículo do esforço russo de modernização e ocidentalização, começa a questionar o sentido da defesa da pátria grande e a validade da guerra. Escreve ele no início do segundo conto, “Sebastopol em maio”: 

Muitas vezes me veio um pensamento estranho: e se um dos lados em guerra propusesse ao outro enviar apenas um soldado de ambos os Exércitos? […] se de fato as complexas questões políticas entre representantes racionais de criaturas racionais devem ser resolvidas por meio de uma luta, que lutem esses dois soldados – um para tomar a cidade, o outro para defendê-la.

Esse raciocínio apenas parece paradoxal, mas é justo. […] Das duas, uma: ou a guerra é uma loucura, ou, se as pessoas praticam tal loucura, não são absolutamente criaturas racionais, como nos habituamos a pensar, sabe-se lá por quê (Tolstói, 2015, p. 182).

Para nós, que conhecemos a transformação por que passou Euclides da Cunha quando, quarenta anos depois da experiência de Tolstói, foi cobrir para o jornal O Estado de S. Paulo a Guerra de Canudos, essa mudança soa familiar. Presenciar a inutilidade da guerra faz com que Tolstói privilegie relatos sobre os indivíduos que estavam na guerra – a insegurança de um oficial, o encontro de dois irmãos que acabam indo juntos para a batalha, os feridos nos hospitais de campanha – e não sobre as grandes decisões dos comandantes e as vitórias heroicas dos generais. Leva-o também a experimentar formas literárias diversas e modernas, misturando gêneros – ficção, reportagem e digressão –, pontos de vista narrativos, registros de linguagem.

É preciso ter como referência essa obra de Tolstói, de 1855, quando lemos o primeiro livro de contos de Emilio Fraia. Sebastopol (2018), que reúne três histórias de Fraia, faz uma clara referência aos contos do jovem Tolstói logo no título, assim como nos nomes de cada conto, que repetem os de Tolstói. E em pelo menos dois pontos o escritor brasileiro dialoga com o clássico russo. Primeiro, Fraia parece citar, nos textos que abrem e fecham o volume, cenas e acontecimentos do livro de Tolstói. Segundo, Fraia repete a pergunta de Tolstói sobre a diferença entre a experiência e o relato da experiência; afinal, o soldado, de volta do terror da batalha, inventa e se vangloria, mesmo que seu relato se baseie numa experiência real.

Este é o primeiro livro que Fraia publica sozinho. O autor, nascido em 1982, escreveu junto com Vanessa Barbara o romance O verão do Chibo (2008), finalista do Prêmio São Paulo de Literatura. É também coautor, em parceria com o ilustrador DW Ribatski, da HQ Campo em branco (2013). Sebastopol, que recebeu elogios de autores como Sérgio Sant’Anna e Marçal Aquino, é uma tentativa bem-sucedida de produzir um livro de contos com unidade temática e formal. O andamento e o tom das três narrativas são similares, assim como a questão que as permeia: o estatuto da ficção e o desencontro entre experiência e narrativa. Embora haja nos três relatos uma carga de não dito e questões abertas que podem ou não ser elucidadas ao longo das histórias, Fraia tem uma linguagem segura e precisa. Além disso, utiliza recursos formais interessantes. No segundo conto, por exemplo, alterna entre os pontos de vista do narrador e dos personagens com destreza, sem recorrer a travessão ou aspas, e entrelaça planos narrativos diferentes (o passado dos dois personagens principais e o presente, em que há o encontro dos dois). O recurso dominante, no entanto, é a metaficção, ou seja, a distribuição de comentários sobre o estatuto da ficção e sobre os limites da narrativa. Como numa piscadela, o livro indica que o leitor precisa procurar uma chave metaficcional para interpretar os contos, que a narrativa ali é um enigma que deve ser decifrado para que se tenha acesso ao verdadeiro sentido da obra.

Um dos elementos metaficcionais mais interessantes utilizados por Fraia é a descrição de obras de arte (livros, quadros, filmes) ficcionais. No primeiro conto de Sebastopol, “Dezembro”, uma ex-escaladora começa a reavaliar a narrativa que construiu sobre sua vida ao assistir a um filme de arte, feito por uma mulher chamada Pikman, que conta uma história muito parecida com a sua.

No vídeo, de tempos em tempos uma mulher surgia, uma mulher de cabelos ondulados, nariz grande e lábios finos. Seria você, senhorita Pikman? Ela nunca encarava de fato a câmera mas narrava a história, que, à medida que se desenrolava, se parecia cada vez mais com a minha, e ao mesmo tempo era completamente diferente também (Fraia, 2018, p. 38).

Esse instrumento metaficcional, que Fraia utiliza com competência, tem uma longa tradição na literatura moderna. Um dos modelos mais fortes, claro, é Jorge Luis Borges. As histórias de Borges estão coalhadas de livros, bibliotecas e mapas inventados e impossíveis. “Exame da obra de Herbert Quain”, por exemplo, é na verdade um artigo sobre um escritor ficcional que teria inspirado o autor em “As ruínas circulares”, outro conto do mesmo livro (Borges, 2007, p. 62-8).

Na literatura brasileira atual, além do gosto borgiano pelo exercício de imaginação, há um diálogo com certas tendências contemporâneas das artes dramáticas e plásticas. Cito alguns exemplos, dos muitos possíveis. Paisagem com dromedário (2010), de Carola Saavedra, é uma tentativa de diálogo da literatura com a arte conceitual. É composto da transcrição de 22 gravações que, descobrimos ao fim, fariam parte de uma instalação. A vista particular (2016), de Ricardo Lísias, é um romance sobre um artista que faz performances e instalações. Uma das obras é uma instalação que reproduz uma favela dentro do museu, inclusive a violência policial a que a população das comunidades desassistidas está sujeita. A obra ficcional descrita por Lísias guarda muitas semelhanças com obras de Lola Arias, artista argentina, especificamente com Chácara Paraíso, de 2007, que encena numa favela cenográfica o treinamento de policiais militares paulistas. Um terceiro exemplo: no conto “Aquele vento na praça”, incluído na revista Granta dedicada aos “melhores jovens escritores brasileiros”, Laura Erber trabalha uma série de referências e conceitos do campo das artes plásticas para imaginar a vida e a obra de artistas (Granta, 2012, p. 25-36).

Há outros exemplos, um pouco mais recuados, nas obras de Sérgio Sant’Anna e Bernardo Carvalho. Em Onze (1995), de Carvalho, parte da narrativa trata de um artista holandês cujo trabalho parece remeter às obras de Cildo Meireles (Zero Cruzeiro, 1974-78) ou de Jeff Koons, com seus jogos com o mercado de arte. Kill, o artista de Onze, falsifica dinheiro para abalar o sistema financeiro. “Ao contrário da arte conceitual ou outras artes, que precisam ser reconhecidas como arte para causar algum impacto – pensem em Duchamp, por exemplo –, ao contrário, o trabalho de Kill perdia-se na realidade, era como um vírus injetado na realidade” (Carvalho, 1995, p. 84), escreve um crítico de arte fictício em Onze. Nos quase cinquenta anos de carreira de Sant’Anna, há inúmeros exemplos, como os recentes “O homem-mulher II” (Sant’Anna, 2014, p. 139-83), que descreve a obra de um dramaturgo fictício. No mesmo livro, encontramos os contos “Madonna” (p. 55-6), em que um ladrão explica sua relação com uma obra de arte roubada, a Madonna (1892-95) de Edvard Munch; e “Amor a Buda” (p. 128-35), que descreve a escultura Tentação (Tangseng e Yaojing) (2005), de Li Zhanyang (desta vez, duas obras reais, mas “ficcionalizadas” ao se incorporarem ao relato literário).

Essas obras parecem nos dizer que a ficção é capaz daquilo de que nenhum outro discurso é capaz. Só a ficção pode aproximar o pensável do impensável. Podemos, por meio da ficção, pensar objetos que não existem. Com isso, ampliamos o que pode ser pensado. Quando, ficcionalmente, Lísias extrapola a obra de Arias, transformando a encenação da artista argentina numa violência real dentro do mundo ficcional, ele consegue imaginar aquilo que, no mundo concreto, parece impossível; o universo possível feito de palavras tem limites mais amplos do que o universo concreto das artes que trabalham com o corpo e com objetos.

Essa literatura conceitual, porém, corre um risco que o teatro pós-dramático e as artes plásticas conceituais também enfrentam. Não à toa, uma das análises que mais dão conta desse tipo de literatura vem não da crítica literária, mas da crítica da arte. O risco dessa ficção é cair na armadilha que Jacques Rancière identifica na estética relacional do crítico e curador Nicolas Bourriaud: ao antecipar o efeito que se espera causar no receptor, essas obras tendem a “conceitualizar essa identidade antecipada entre a apresentação de um dispositivo sensível de formas, a manifestação de seu sentido e a realidade encarnada desse sentido” (Rancière, 2012, p. 71). Traduzindo os conceitos de Rancière, podemos dizer que essa arte (ou, aqui, essa literatura), embora se proponha a questionar estatutos pétreos da arte ou da ficção “modernas” (a autoria, a originalidade, a separação entre ficção e realidade, a função contemplativa da arte pura), acaba por construir uma identidade entre a forma sensível (a matéria própria da ficção: as palavras, as frases, a narrativa), o sentido correto de sua interpretação e a realidade sobre a qual essa obra fala. São obras que incluem em si sua interpretação e sua própria crítica; obras que, diante do medo de que o conceito esteja cifrado demais, repetem-no, exibem-no claramente. No caso da literatura metaficcional, o risco é que, embora descrevam obras fictícias (ou ficcionalizadas) enigmáticas, os contos e os romances podem ser transparentes. São obras de consenso, não de dissenso.

Qual seria, portanto, a mensagem consensual dos contos de Sebastopol? Volto ao primeiro. Nele, a narradora é uma escaladora que sofre um acidente no Everest e tem as pernas amputadas – como os soldados que vemos ser amputados no primeiro conto de Tolstói sobre a Guerra da Crimeia. Ela se torna palestrante motivacional, mas, certo dia, encontra um filme de arte que parece contar sua história. Essa história é e não é a dela, o que a leva a questionar o estatuto da narrativa. Afinal, o que é mais verdadeiro: a história que ela conta nas palestras e nos livros de motivação, ou a história contada por outra pessoa; a história de superação que ela construiu para si mesma, ou a história, mesmo que imprecisa, narrada do ponto de vista de outra pessoa? O leitor de Tolstói é capaz de identificar aqui a dúvida do narrador das Crônicas de Sebastopol. Os combatentes, quando retornam do campo de batalha, não sabem realmente o que aconteceu e criam uma narrativa que os proteja, uma vez que “durante todo o tempo o combate transcorria numa espécie de sombra e de inconsciência, a tal ponto que tudo o que se passava lhe[s] parecia ter ocorrido em outra parte, em outro tempo, com outras pessoas” (Tolstói, 2015, p. 224).

No segundo conto de Fraia, uma reformulação de um texto que o autor havia publicado na revista Granta em 2012, um casal chega a uma pousada desativada no meio de uma região rural. Depois de uma briga, a mulher vai embora, e o homem, o brasileiro-peruano Adán, passa os dias com o proprietário da pousada, bebendo e contando sua vida. Certo dia, Adán some, e o proprietário, Nilo, junto com seu único funcionário, esvazia a piscina para ver se ele morreu afogado. No final da história, Nilo visita um vizinho que quer comprar seu sítio e lá encontra um porco. Seria o mesmo porco que Adán viu um dia perdido no meio da vegetação? O porco está doente e vai ter que ser sacrificado. Nesse momento, Nilo ouve o ronco de um motor. Seria Adán indo embora no Fusca que havia deixado na pousada desativada? O conto termina aberto. Afinal, concluímos, não é possível unificar vida nenhuma numa narrativa linear, e o conto demonstra essa impossibilidade. Lembra-nos o narrador que, quando contamos nossas vidas, narramos histórias que correm paralelas, sem nunca se encontrarem (Fraia, 2018, p. 72). As histórias servem, portanto, para chegarmos a essa conclusão: nenhuma vida cabe numa narrativa uniforme e linear.

No terceiro, mais uma vez uma narradora em primeira pessoa. Nadia, uma estudante universitária com nome russo, começa a trabalhar para um dramaturgo, Klaus, que fez algum sucesso no circuito alternativo no passado, mas agora está decadente. A pedido de Klaus, ela pesquisa sobre um pintor russo, Trúnov, que pintava quadros na região de Sebastopol durante o cerco da cidade. Trúnov faz, na pintura, o que de certa forma Tolstói fez nos contos sobre a Guerra da Crimeira: em vez de pintar o encontro sangrento dos batalhões inimigos, retrata os personagens individuais, na sua solidão e em seu drama pessoal. Lembramos o autor de Guerra e paz, que pede que o leitor veja não o palco amplo da guerra, mas o simples soldado: “Olhe bem para esse soldadinho do destacamento das carroças de carga que conduz uma troica de cavalos baios para beber água, cantarolando baixinho e tranquilo para si mesmo, e logo fica claro que ele não vai se perder na barafunda dessa multidão, a qual, aliás, para ele nem existe” (Tolstói, 2015, p. 163).

No conto de Fraia, Klaus está escrevendo uma peça sobre o pintor, ou melhor, sobre o fracasso de Trúnov em pintar um quadro sobre os horrores da guerra. Na peça, um soldado pede que Trúnov o retrate em batalha. O pintor tenta, mas não consegue. Decide retratá-lo sozinho, como no dia em que o conheceu. Antes de terminar o quadro, recebe a notícia da morte do soldado. Então abandona o trabalho, que ficará esquecido por décadas e só será redescoberto nos anos 1960.

A encenação de Klaus também será um fracasso, como foi um fracasso a tentativa de Trúnov de retratar tanto os horrores épicos da guerra quanto o drama da solidão do soldado. (Algumas das imagens mais famosas da guerra são de Roger Fenton, pioneiro do fotojornalismo, que, no entanto, devido às limitações técnicas da época, retratou principalmente soldados posando, como em uma pintura.) Mais uma vez, é o estatuto da ficção, tanto da pintura quanto do teatro, que é questionado. O que a ficção é capaz de dizer?, pergunta-nos o conto. Nós mentimos ao contar nossa história, como a escaladora; falhamos ao tentar unificar nossa vida em um relato, como Nilo e Adán; só podemos falar de nosso fracasso, como Klaus e Trúnov: só podemos falar do fracasso da ficção como representação de algo externo.

Além do comentário metaficcional sobre o estatuto da narrativa, Fraia espalha ao longo do livro comentários sobre o andamento dos contos. Embora os narradores variem – o conto do meio é narrado na terceira pessoa, ainda que Adán às vezes assuma a narração, enquanto os outros dois têm narradoras em primeira pessoa –, o ritmo lento, a estrutura em blocos curtos e o tom simples mas elusivo unificam os três relatos. Essa proposta de transformar o relato curto em uma experiência de duração, na qual o leitor experimente a temporalidade da narrativa, é anunciada em pontos diferentes do livro. (Entendo aqui duração como o tempo como é experimentado pelo sujeito, ao contrário do tempo cronológico, exterior.) No primeiro conto, a narradora enuncia para seu companheiro de escalada, o italiano Gino: “eu sei que você prefere as longas durações” (Fraia, 2018, p. 43). No segundo conto, Fraia escreve: “As horas seguintes transcorrem como uma partida de pontos longos, longuíssimos” (p. 53), a repetição de “longos”, com a ênfase do superlativo, reforçando a afirmação do ritmo. No terceiro, por fim, a narradora comenta a conversa que teve com Klaus a respeito do acontecimento – a chegada do soldado que pede a Trúnov que o pinte – que deveria dar movimento ao enredo da peça que estão escrevendo: “o tal episódio de muito movimento […] estava longe de ser um episódio movimentado de verdade, porque o que Klaus gostava nas coisas era tudo, menos movimento. Ele gostava do que chamava de tempos longos, de chuva, de molhar bolachas no leite, e, claro, ele gostava de gente maluca e perdida” (Fraia, 2018, p. 103).

Há, por fim, mais um elemento importante nos contos de Fraia. Como já dissemos, as histórias que abrem e fecham o volume são narradas em primeira pessoa, por duas personagens femininas. O autor consegue evitar, na maior parte do tempo, colocar marcas de um discurso feminino e mimetizar os lugares-comuns do que se espera de uma literatura “feminina” ou “intimista”. Essas narradoras, no entanto, compartilham com o narrador e os personagens do segundo conto, o único em terceira pessoa, o mesmo tom reflexivo. Narradores e personagens meditam sobre o estatuto da narrativa e a natureza da experiência. No entanto, essas reflexões ocasionalmente soam deslocadas, como se um grande narrador, aquele que unifica o tom e o ritmo lento dos relatos, estivesse falando pela boca dos personagens e das narradoras.

Logo no primeiro conto, por exemplo, a narradora, ponderando sobre a experiência que lhe valeu a amputação, se pergunta: “Quem é que pode pensar que num dia se acorda bem, alimentando o sonho de escalar uma montanha, e no fim da jornada um pedaço do seu corpo simplesmente não existe mais?” (Fraia, 2018, p. 35). O leitor possivelmente pensou que isso poderia acontecer, já que todo ano morrem dezenas de escaladores no Everest. Peguemos outro exemplo, no segundo conto. Enquanto se embriaga com o proprietário da pousada desativada, Adán elabora suas reflexões sobre seu passado e sobre o conflito entre narração e experiência:

Naquele tempo, eu não tinha nada. Às vezes olho para essa época e penso: ela faz parte de uma outra vida, que casualmente é a minha também, mas que poderia não ser, porque nós temos mais de uma vida, e elas não necessariamente se parecem umas com as outras, às vezes não existe nem mesmo uma continuidade entre elas, mas depois de um tempo aprendemos como falar das vidas passadas, e elas se tornam vidas inofensivas à medida que são contadas e à medida que pensamos entender o que significam. Isso nos acalma. Mas é claro que essa é só mais uma ilusão entre tantas. O que eu acho é que a gente conta e repete as histórias porque tem medo delas. No fundo é isso. Um pedido de ajuda. Queremos que alguém nos ajude, nos proteja delas (Fraia, 2018, p. 58).

Essa digressão, estranha na boca de um velho bêbado, parece responder às interrogações da protagonista do primeiro conto, quando ela põe em dúvida a narrativa que construiu a fim de poder tocar a vida adiante. É como se a mesma questão, o mesmo ceticismo em relação à narrativa da experiência, habitasse o discurso de todos os personagens, porque, afinal, esse ceticismo é o que o livro quer dizer ao leitor. É essa a mensagem que deve ficar da leitura.

Ao operar nesses dois níveis – um nível que individualiza os personagens e as vozes e outro que os unifica no mesmo ritmo narrativo e no mesmo sentido final –, Sebastopol ilustra as possibilidades e os riscos de uma metaficção cética que usa histórias, referências (históricas e intertextuais), vozes e personagens diversos para discutir os limites da ficção.

Lucas Bandeira de Melo Carvalho é doutor em Literatura Comparada pela Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro e, atualmente, desenvolve projeto de pós-doutorado no programa do PACC-Letras da UFRJ. Agradece à Faperj pelo apoio a esta pesquisa.

segunda-feira, 21 de junho de 2021

seis leituras

Na Tank Magazine, Barbara Epler: 

A remarkable debut: three highly atmospheric and super-saturated stories feature characters yearning, striving and coming apart at the seams: emotions are let loose, and roll off independently like potatoes when their burlap sack moulders away. There is at once a weight and a phosphorescent brightness too (like Dickens’ description of Marley’s ghost shining in the dark like a rotten lobster). Sevastopol is compulsively, palpably engaging and strange in the best sense. Emilio Fraia, a master of the subjects of love and loss, has a knack for levering things into the reader sideways, and shockingly fast: it’s like getting a splinter, but much, much more enjoyable. 

Na Newcity Lit, Joshua Bohnsack: 

When I started reading Emilio Fraia’s Sevastopol (translated from the Portuguese by Zoë Perry), I made the rash assumption that I had picked up a novel, which led me to question how the three stories that make up this collection fit together. 

Emilio Fraia’s English-language debut may be modeled after Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Sketches, but Sevastopol is much more than a modernized version. 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. 

The collection begins with “December,” where a mountain climber mitigates her obsession with climbing Mount Everest. Reflecting years after the climb which costs Lena, the narrator, her legs, Fraia twists Tolstoy’s rules, with a second-person narration, but as epistolary, instead of Tolstoy’s literal “you.” The opening begins as the narrator watches the footage of her accident, reading, “Watching your video, I was hurled right back into the middle of it. That’s why I’m writing you now.” This transition works to bring the reader into the text, by making you privy to the narrator’s own self-reflection. As I began reading Lena’s account of her climb, I had the audacity to think I, too, could climb a mountain. While going deeper into “December,” I no longer had the urge, but was amazed by the visceral transition I had made within the pages. 

In “May,” a man staying at an abandoned motel vanishes. The motel owner recounts his conversations with Adán, the missing man, who insists on ruining his own life. Another visceral story, this time haunted by the ghost, rather than the terrestrial in “December.” Adán recounts his experiences growing up in a changing Peru, telling his hosts, “What did I learn? That there are animals that spend the winter in deep water. And that with great hope also comes a great lack of hope.” Although I’m not well-versed on late-twentieth-century South American politics, the human aspects of the story were more than enough to keep me honed in. 

While in the final story, “August,” an aging artist, Klaus, befriends a young, directionless narrator, Nadia, over their impending production of a play based on a postcard of Sevastopol, a port where neither character had been. We have a story that takes us into the darkness art can bring upon the artist, a parable at once familiar and devastating. 

The form of the book lends itself to world exploration beyond what Tolstoy deemed “sketches.” 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. 

Na Lunate, Jess Moody: 

It is over 160 years since Leo Tolstoy penned Sevastopol Sketches: three narratives set across the Crimean War’s bloody siege in December, May, and August, of 1854-55. These snapshots from the front line were striking in their realism, their form, their exacting exploration of individual ambitions and fears in the most deadly and banal circumstances. 

Centuries forward, and across the world, Brazilian writer Emilio Fraia takes more than inspiration from the Sketches: his three narratives echo back and forth, in conversation with its themes, but also insistent in the question of whether one can ever tell where one story ends and another begins. 

In Fraia’s ‘December’ there is no war. Instead, seemingly a freshness and calm: beach scenes, an empty gallery, a deserted driveway. We are in Brazil, with a young mountaineer who has survived a life-changing accident. Her voice is modern, firm, confident. Yet there are nods to the literary legacy here, if you know where to look. She disarms us with a second person address; there are mirrored images of bandages and amputation of limbs, narrative, relationships, certainty. We see the same motivations to search out extremes as in Tolstoy’s officers -perhaps pride, perhaps fame, perhaps the expectations of others. The sparse, careful prose (a knowing, grounded translation by Zoë Perry) hides shifting truth. Memories are cut up and re-edited like the video footage that our mountaineer watches and remembers – which she may or may not be in. It may, or may not, be her story. 

She vanishes. ‘May’ is seemingly another narrative entirely. We are far from anywhere, in an inn that never really opened, as a middle aged man empties the swimming pool in search of a body. Fraia turns from film to oral history: and the story within story is the drunken anecdotes of a stranger, relayed on unplayed tennis courts. Personal tragedies are folded amongst the social turmoil of Peru and Brazil, full of the regrets of age, loneliness, and sickness. Tolstoy’s ‘May’ contrasts bloody streets with white flags, dancing with détente. Fraia too makes the centre of his triptych a space of waiting; the interim before the fall. What corpse will be carried home? What is it to learn the life of characters who are already vanishing? Can a man leave behind only his story? 

In ‘August’ we are back to the city, and youth, and crappy wages and break-up fallout. Looping in yet another narrative art, the author focuses in on fading dramatist Klaus, who invites young Nadia to help with research for his play (based on a vague misunderstanding that she has an ‘interest in Russia’). In this third story Fraia introduces the Sevastopol siege itself as subject matter through the life and artificial brushstrokes of a wartime artist. Klaus and Nadia’s relationship becomes consumed by questions of plot, character, casting, what they need from each other, and the weight of a pause. ‘August’ offers us few conclusions, a tale and two lives meandering, constructing and failing. 

Fraia’s prose is at turns meditative, mournful, and dreamlike; both a detached voiceover commentary, and a rough confession of disappointed desires. In the short, sharp sentences there is humanity, but little judgement. Things happen. Decisions are made. People hurt each other, and are hurt in return. The characters were there, now they are here, or they are gone. There may or may not be connection between…well, anything. Stories are told and re-told, and talk to each other. At the fall of Sevastapol, Tolstoy’s soldiers and sailors stare back at their lost city with incomprehension. Fraia is confident enough to let the seasons turn, and the pages turn with them; to layer together the glimpses of moments and memories for your interpretation, and your own meaning. 

‘He used to paint figures and set them aside, then arrange them against backgrounds he’d prepared separately. So, even when the figures interacted with one another, the connection between them seemed unnatural. Their eyes…almost never seemed to meet...’ 

No The Monthly Booking, Eleanor Updegraff: 

The characters in Emilio Fraia’s Sevastopol are all a little bit lost. A young female mountaineer, obsessed with climbing Mount Everest, conflates her damaging relationship with the mountain and her equally unsuccessful relationships with men, particularly the older and unreliable Gino. An elderly man, eking out his last years at an abandoned country hotel, receives an unexpected visit from Adán, a young Peruvian-Brazilian man who seems at home in neither country and vanishes into the forest shortly afterwards. And Nadia, a young student who has dreams of being a writer, becomes entangled with Klaus, a failing playwright working on a production about a Russian artist who witnesses but never actually paints the Crimean War. Distinct they may be, yet certain threads run through these three stories, cleverly connecting their characters not so much by events as by themes and emotions. In an assured translation by Zoë Perry, Sevastopol introduces English-speaking readers to a young Brazilian author who is more than deserving of international attention. 

Inspired by Tolstoy’s The Sevastopol Sketches and named after the months given in their titles – December, May and August – Fraia’s stories in fact have very little to do with Crimea’s largest and most famous city. Sevastopol puts in an appearance only in the last story, and then solely in distanced form: an image on a postcard, streets on a map, tumbledown buildings imagined by the main characters. All the same, there is a certain melancholy attached to the book that seems reminiscent of people’s desire to conjure far-off places, that particular form of longing for a city never visited but where things could be better. Whether through art, travel, physical exertion or literal disappearance, each of the characters we encounter is yearning to escape. 

It is always the sign of a good story when the reader would gladly read on, and all three stories in Sevastopol are filled with enough atmosphere and compelling characterisation to create exactly this effect. Fraia is an excellent observer of people and draws them for us using two simultaneous techniques: details about his characters are given away by their thoughts and actions, but also by the stories they tell about themselves. ‘December’ and ‘August’ feature first-person narrators, while in ‘May’ the young man, Adán, tells his life story to his ageing host, Nilo, in dialogue that is entirely without quotation marks, allowing it to bleed into the main text. This is just one instance of a story within a story, one of the main themes that runs through the book and makes the reader question how much we can really know of other people – or, indeed, ourselves. 

Though on the surface Sevastopol may seem a quiet book, full of sparing prose and stripped-back imagery, Fraia’s evident interest in the nature of storytelling adds considerable nuance and depth. This is perhaps most clear to see in the final story, ‘August’, in which the two main characters spend most of their time writing or otherwise telling stories. Not only is a play the main subject of the story, but Nadia, our narrator, continually drafts and redrafts a story about a man and a woman (also called Nadia) whose relationship is clearly complex yet undefined. The details of her life that she narrates to others – her parents and playwright Klaus, mostly – are also a form of storytelling, helping her to make sense of her life and the society she finds herself in. The last line of ‘August’ is particularly telling: in Nadia’s story, her two main characters find themselves on an ‘avenue, which grew wider and wider and impossible to cross’. Nadia’s own struggle to reconcile the different parts of her life – studies, writing, work and relationships, all nebulous – seems much like someone hovering on the edge of a stream of traffic, needing but not quite daring to cross. 

More daring are the other main characters, Adán in ‘May’ and the young mountaineer in ‘December’, though their actions don’t necessarily result in a fate that is any clearer or more reassuring. As he tells Nilo about the grief and loss he has experienced in his life, Adán’s story becomes about ‘how we keep falling, from one ordeal to another’. There is something hopelessly inevitable about the events he relates, just as there is about the fate we sense will eventually befall the old man, alone but for a faithful employee on a crumbling farm that is ‘drowning in the landscape’. Interestingly, while Fraia’s main characters are all young and have great potential – creative talent, determination, strength, brains, ambition – they seem somehow more washed-up than their older counterparts. Another line from Adán’s story rings terribly true in this context: ‘with great hope also comes a great lack of hope’. Here, youth and potential seem to wander hand in hand with despair. 

Despite being able to tease these darker themes out of the strands of the book, Sevastopol is an absorbing and enjoyable collection to read, transporting us effortlessly to the backstreets of São Paulo or the slopes of Everest. Though some characters, such as Klaus, are not meant to be very likeable, the narrators are sympathetically portrayed and entirely real in their small quirks or at times baffling emotions. Fraia writes with a sense of detachment – brief sentences, light on adjectives – and the stories are presented in fragments, short sections that at first glance don’t always follow on from one another. Here, Perry’s English translation is razor-sharp: her language is light, yet weighty with that overarching sense of melancholy; punctuation plays an important role in giving the stories their own particular rhythm. 

Many-layered and exquisitely crafted, concerned with art – each of the stories is prefaced by a distorted image pertaining to its geographical theme – and the stories we tell ourselves and others, Sevastopol is about using words to make sense of life, and how even the smallest stories are interconnected. Linked yet individual, with intriguing characters who undergo transformations before our eyes, the disarming simplicity with which these stories are written belies their haunting complexity. A book to think about long after you have finished, Sevastopol clearly shows Fraia to be a masterful contemporary storyteller. 

No Wall Street Journal, Sam Sacks: 

Translated from the Portuguese by Zoë Perry, it shuffles through a selection of pointillist short stories and metafictions: A mountain climber who lost her legs summiting Everest recalls the disastrous expedition; an aging Brazilian farmer searches for a mysterious stranger who came to live on his property and then disappeared; in São Paulo, two mismatched artists try to write a play about a Russian painter who lived during the Crimean War. 

That painter, an invented figure called Bogdan Trunov, is said to have arranged separate compositions so that “even when the figures interacted with one another, the connection between them seemed unnatural.” 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. 

No The Complete Review,  M.A. Orthofer

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.

domingo, 20 de junho de 2021

estruturas que podem desabar a qualquer momento


Sevastopol is divided into three distinct stories, each with their own characters and plot, but there are similarities. Why did the novel take this form? What did you want the reader to get from them collectively? 

I wanted to write stories that stood on their own, but, at the same time, when set side by side, could be connected by subtle links, by a shared pacing. As if beyond the voice narrating each of the stories there were something subjective, blurry, hovering over everything, creating an effect, a feeling of strangeness. A feeling of difference (after all, the stories are independent), but also of proximity (recurring themes, a common tone, a sense of progression). So, while the book isn't a novel, that's often how I'd like it to be read, or thought about in that way. I wanted the reader to reach the end and be able to go back through the stories, looking for those echoes, intersections, points of contact. 

What led you to using Leo Tolstoy’s The Sevastopol Sketches (1855) as the underlying foundation of your book – what drew you to this work, and how did it inform your aesthetic, narratological, and temporal choices? 

I really like this line from The Sevastopol Sketches: “all along, the fighting had worn on in a kind of shadow and unconsciousness, to such a degree that everything that happened seemed to them to have happened elsewhere, at another time, and with other people”. This hallucinatory aspect, this movement of experiences, I think it relates to Sevastopol as well. The stories are told clearly, but the characters inhabit this shadowy, unconscious space that Tolstoy talks about. When the reader follows along with the lives of people like Nilo, Klaus, Nadia and Lena, I'd like there to be a bit of that feeling: of seeing what we cannot see. Another interesting thing are the photographs by Roger Fenton. Fenton went to Sevastopol in 1855 to document the war. He produced 360 photos over four months. I remember seeing a picture of the soldiers' barracks in Crimea and thinking it looked like the base camps on Everest, which surely tells us something about the world of adventure sports. But I think mostly about the famous photographs he took of a road both with and without cannonballs, in Valley of the Shadow of Death. Fenton took two photos, one of a road filled with cannonballs and another of the same road, from the same angle, without the cannonballs. Apparently, he moved the cannonballs from the shoulder to the middle of the road in order to achieve a more eloquent image. But both photos survived and made their way to us. Which one is truer? Which one, ultimately, was taken first? Can one be more real than the other? What can fiction tell us? This idea of enacting or staging, the question of truth and falsehood, the relationship between experience and the representation of experience. All this relates to Fenton's photos — and to Sevastopol as well.

In your interview with Deborah Treisman for The New Yorker, you said of Sevastopol that it is “all slightly unreal and, therefore, more real”. Could you say more about this state of uncanny that appears throughout the novel? 

I didn't want to write a metafictional or, let's say, postmodern book because books like that can wind up being kind of boring or too cold. I wanted to tell stories about people, human dramas. But at the same time, it's 2021, we don't read the same way we used to read literature in the past. So, I wanted the book to also be a commentary on the status of fiction, on the limits of narrative. But how do I do this and maintain the tension of the story, not allow the reader’s interest in the stories to wane? I think a lot of the strangeness of Sevastopol comes from that: the narrative is also an enigma that must be deciphered in order to access the meaning of the book. The places where the stories take place, for example. The Crimean city of Sevastopol, Everest, Lima, São Paulo. I tried to work from representations of these places, or rather from the idea of how those representations can contain what’s real, in itself — how they can, like fiction, speak more to what’s real than reality itself. The kind of thing you find in Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-Soo's films or Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri's pictures. In the book, Sevastopol first appears as a picture on a postcard, then as a city on a map. The Himalayas look like they're made of cardboard, appearing in the midst of a commercial shoot. Lima in the 1980s is practically a hallucination. Klaus is a kind of vampire pulled from a B-horror film version of São Paulo. All of this creates an unusual air, something unreal. I like that.

At the centre of each story is a pair of characters, each with an air of mystery around them. Often something seems to be missing or left out, which you cannot always put your finger on. What role do you think these gaps play? 

The writers I most admire work with ellipses, silence, the space between sentences. Natalia Ginzburg, Yasunari Kawabata, Chekhov, Hemingway, Robert Walser, Mario Bellatin. They all seem a bit like poets too. They work like poets. A lot of things get left outside. There's a beautiful text in which Roland Barthes compares Flaubert and Balzac. It's wonderful and talks about how Flaubert practically invents the ellipsis in realist narrative — which makes him a very modern writer we’d be having coffee with here today. “Flaubert practices the ellipsis. He does not appose. For him, the sentence is like an object, a microsystem having its internal hierarchy (as opposed to Balzac, who accumulates multiple incidents). What Balzac would have catalyzed, Flaubert evacuates: Flaubert's one simple phrase ('As it was thirty-three degrees hot, Bourdon Boulevard was completely deserted') would have provided a whole first paragraph for Balzac—climatic considerations regarding Paris, sociology of the Paris summer, topography of the Bastille, etc. It's useful to note the relationship to science, to scientific discourse. Balzac is closer to science than Flaubert is. The ellipsis is not scientific: to be elliptical is not a good thing. The ellipsis assumes that one has chosen another value system — art. Or again: silence. Without ever being hermetic, the Flaubertian sentence lets silences be heard. Silence is the constitutive place of the sentence, as of music.” 

The novel is full of stories; those recounted to us as readers, but equally those which characters tell each other. These stories intertwine and sometimes overtake the characters’ narrative. Why did you want the reader to be diverted by these anecdotes, histories, memories? 

I guess that's a bit the way things work in life, isn't it? Listening to stories and absorbing them in our own way. There's a larger plot formed by these stories. But one day, some of those stories suddenly don't make so much sense anymore. As if our consciousness, what we call our individuality, were propped up by structures that could collapse at any moment.

Do you think different modes of retelling stories affects their reception? What made the delivery of Lena’s accident in December take the form of a letter, versus the oral, almost rumour-like story of the pig in May? 

In the book, there’s always someone who's telling, remembering. And the story that's being told takes the lead and winds up operating as a kind of commentary on the main story— and the book as well. These are simple stories that start to become complex. In “May”, it's Nilo, the old owner of the inn, who receives the story, who says nothing, just listens. And this attentive listening is the key to the story: in the end, what does Adán's story set in motion in Nilo's soul? In “December”, Lena watches a video in an art gallery and writes a long e-mail to the artist who made the video. This email, this letter, is the story itself. Lena is sure that what she saw in the video was her story, she's sure that the artist “stole” her story. And gradually we understand that the only person who could know all that about her is Gino, the documentary filmmaker with whom Lena had an affair, the guy who accompanied her on several climbs around the world. So, the letter we're reading is a letter to Gino. A letter of love, madness, sadness, hatred. The moment Lena changes the letter’s recipient, when she no longer addresses the artist but Gino, is the climax of the whole thing. It's like she reached the top of the mountain. And everything changes from there, the story takes on another meaning in retrospect. Because the tone of a story depends on that: to whom the narrative voice is speaking. 

Could you tell me about the role of images in the novel? From Gino’s videos in December, Nilo’s aversion to photographs in May, to the postcard Nadia receives in August, art is encountered by all the characters. At the same time, the book takes shape the shape of a triptych. What do you think is offered to you in the meeting between writing and art? 

My favorite scene in the book is when Klaus, half drunk, starts telling Nadia a story about the first bust Giacometti sculpted at the age of thirteen, and how, fifty years later, in his studio, the sculptor tries to recreate that head, the same head, same size, and can't do it anymore. And there's the story that Nadia is writing, that she keeps redoing, three versions of the same story. I think my ideas about art and writing, representation and reality, can be summed up in these episodes. 

We are dying to know what you are currently working on, and what you are currently reading! 

At the moment, just dreaming about the vaccine and Bolsonaro behind bars.


sábado, 29 de maio de 2021

quatro leituras

Na Kirkus

Three snapshots of lives spent striving but ultimately falling short.

On the surface, these stories have little in common: Each is titled by a month—December, May, August; each takes place in Brazil—the first and last in São Paulo, the second in “the middle of nowhere.” In the first, Lena writes to the creator of a short film playing on a loop in an art gallery near her home. The piece seems to portray her life, but in ways that make her question her lived experience, especially her relationship with Gino, a photographer who accompanied her on a fateful ascent of Everest. In the second, Adán and his wife, Veronica, stop at a hotel that's defunct, but the owner, Nilo, lets them stay anyway. Veronica leaves after one week; Adán seems content on his own, then vanishes, leading Nilo to search for him. In the third, Nadia, a young writer, quits her job to work on a play with Klaus, a much older director who cruises for men to cast in his work. The lone reference to the book’s titular city comes in a gloss at the start of Nadia’s tale—“Sevastopol, a soulless port...a generic scene, the kind with no story to tell.” It is immaterial to what follows, almost an overt wink to the reader that there is no hidden message in this slim volume. Similar metatextual sentiments run throughout: “The stories ran in parallel, never meeting”; “People always tell the same stories, even when they try to tell new stories.” These are merely moments in time, lives lived and—with the possible exception of Nadia’s—lives mismanaged, leaving disappointment, regret, or, at minimum, probing introspection. With deft precision, Fraia bares his characters just enough to reveal only these stories—nothing is extraneous.

Somber, spare stories that let the reader crawl inside, searching for insight, only to be left greedily craving more. 

Na Vulture, Tope Folarin: 

When was the last time you found yourself sitting among a group of people you’d never met before? After more than a year of the pandemic it might be hard to pin down the moment, but you may remember how you felt — eddies of language whirling around you, conversational shorthand, inside jokes, and obscure references never quite settling into a narrative you could understand. That’s how I felt reading Sevastopol by Brazilian writer Emilio Fraia: I opened the book and found myself in a story that had seemingly started without me. Based loosely on Leo Tolstoy’s story suite The Sevastopol Sketches, Fraia’s book offers up three glancingly linked stories. In the first, a young woman tells an elliptical tale about her mountain-climbing obsession; in the second, a man disappears while staying at a dilapidated countryside inn; and in the third, a young playwright collaborates with an older theater director to produce a play about a Russian painter and the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Translated from the Portuguese by Zoe Perry, these tales don’t operate the way most tales do; they adhere to their own separate sense of languid time. 

Alexandre Boide, no Instagram: 

Livros que remetem a livros (tratando aqui só de ficção) pessoalmente me interessam porque fornecem múltiplas chaves de leitura -- talvez não em um duplo como o Quixote de Pierre Menard, ou um doppelgänger como O Aleph engordado de Pablo Katchadjian, mas em relações um pouco mais distantes, como o fato de The Warriors, de Sol Yurick, ser livremente inspirado na Odisseia.

Sebastopol, de Emilio Fraia, é inspirado em Contos de Sebastopol, de Liev Tolstói. Ambos são compostos de três histórias, com títulos praticamente idênticos. No caso de Tolstói, o tema é o cerco militar à cidade de mesmo nome na Guerra da Crimeia, da resistência à derrocada. No livro de Fraia, com seus personagens em uma espécie de desterro permanente e sujeitos a outros tipos de cercos e batalhas, essa questão é bem mais elusiva.

No primeiro conto, “Dezembro”, é possível encontrar uma simetria mais direta, com uma voz narrativa dirigida a um “você” e a menção a corpos destroçados e ao desejo de resistência. Mas, se por um lado os soldados retratados por Tolstói são submetidos à violência autoritária nos moldes dos impérios pré-1914 (“Nós morreremos, crianças, mas não entregaremos Sebastopol!”), a protagonista de Fraia, que perde as pernas em um acidente na escalada do Everest, parece acossada pelo que o pensador sul-coreano Byung-Chul Han chama de “violência da positividade” (“a desmedida do positivo, que se expressa como superdesempenho e supercomunicação, como um hiperchamar atenção e hiperatividade”) -- ela dá palestras, escreve, é obrigada a recorrer o tempo todo à narrativa exultante da superação do trauma.

Seguindo nessa chave de interpretação, “Maio”, a segunda narrativa, trata da força sufocante do cerco e da aparente futilidade da resistência, tanto em termos materiais como pessoais. Aqui, a força invasora é econômica (o dinheiro chega a ser citado por um personagem como “um tipo de energia”), e todos sabem que a rendição é mera questão de tempo. No plano pessoal, no entanto, ainda resta muito a ser resolvido, e é aí onde reside uma das características mais interessantes de Sebastopol: um intrincado jogo de histórias dentro de histórias.

“Agosto”, o último relato, trata da derrocada. Tanto no livro russo do século XIX como no brasileiro do século XXI, o que se tem são dois personagens (um mais velho, outro mais jovem) tentando fazer algo digno de nota antes de sair de cena. Na Crimeia de Tolstói, a busca pela grandeza é de caráter militar. Na Sebastopol transportada para São Paulo, a batalha é travada contra o próprio ato de narrar. Mas, se no contexto da guerra a derrota significa a morte, no âmbito narrativo essa rendição lança o final de “Sebastopol” de Emilio Fraia em um dos terrenos mais férteis da ficção contemporânea: o impasse.

Na The Critic Mag, John Self: 

Emilio Fraia’s Sevastopol isn’t a debut but it is his first book to be translated into English (by Zoë Perry). It’s a string of three stories that … well, the lack of direct connection between them makes me reluctant to invoke the word triptych, but there is a pattern at work. The book was inspired by Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Sketches, and each story is titled after his (“December”, “May”, “August”); and sets up a pair of characters in opposition, destined for disappointment.

In the first and best story, a woman sets out to scale the “Seven Summits”, the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. (I’m sure there were only five when I was at school.) At the same time she has to cope with the legacy of her lover Gino, the sort of filmmaker who makes “a series of commercials for a car brand — commercials in which cars never appear”.

It’s a smart, knotty story, much fuller and more complex than its length should permit, with plenty of space for the reader to think but also some authorial sleight of hand to keep you curious. By comparison the second story, “May”, seemed to me underweight, despite its otherwise satisfying ambiguities in the narrative viewpoint and its account of the two sides of hospitality.

The final story, “August”, was published in the New Yorker (as “Sevastopol”), though this is not a traditional New Yorkery story, just as the collection itself evokes less a South American literary sensibility than a spare, elusive mitteleuropean one. This placelessness is apt enough for a story which is — finally — actually about the debatable land of Sevastopol, the largest city in the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

It’s narrated by a woman, Nadia, involved in a play about the siege of Sevastopol. Her narrative is peppered with concise pen portraits (“he sports a showy, swashbuckling moustache”) but really the message is all about art, from Nadia’s advice to the playwright (research is like a cherry in a cocktail, she tells him: “only there so that it can be removed”) to the subject of the play: a war artist who never witnessed the battles he depicted.

Fraia is interested not in the reality of things but its representation. That, after all, is what writing is about. “The chief thing,” we’re told via a soldier in the Crimean war, “is not to think. If you don’t think, it’s nothing much. It mostly all comes from thinking.” I’ll drink — or think — to that.

domingo, 18 de abril de 2021

imagens na cabeça

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Strait seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the Bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind? [...] Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene: It tells you. You don’t tell it.”

Joan Didion, Why I write, no Lit Hub

quarta-feira, 31 de março de 2021

wounded comrades

Madeline Beach Carey, no The Commom Breath, sobre o Sevastopol.

I first came across Emilio Fraia what seems like a lifetime ago. It was December 2019, just a few months before time slowed and then stopped for so many of us. I was on my lunch break, eating in a crowded vegetarian self-service cafeteria in the centre of Barcelona. A man from Nepal asked if he could share my table. I nodded, we chatted, and then I got back to reading a short story titled ‘Sevastopol’ in The New Yorker

The story is set in São Paolo and explores a friendship between Klaus, an older playwright who has seen better days, and Nadia, the narrator, a young woman who wants, maybe, to be a writer. Both of these people are lonely, seemingly lost and guided only by the will to imagine—the ephemeral hope of stories. I found the story charming, but later forgot about it. I didn’t search for Emilio Fraia’s biography online. I read his story during lunch and quite liked it. Back then, that was that. I had people to meet, places to go, menial meaningless tasks to perform in a crowded office. 

Close to a year later, Lolli Editions announced that it was publishing a slim volume, a novel in three parts, by a Brazilian writer. Blurbs promised ‘a literary jewel;’ ‘accurate language, powerful imagination.’ The press release went even further, claiming Fraia’s prose was ‘reminiscent of the prose of Anton Chekhov, Roberto Bolaño, and Rachel Cusk.’ 

And while it may sound as if some people were using a bit of hyperbole, let me say that I, scout’s honour, am not. This book lives up to the hype. Fraia’s prose is magnificent and magical. Sevastopol is a gentle marvel. Zoë Perry’s English translation is sparse and, deceptively simple. There is a stillness to the prose but something is going on just beneath the silky surface. The words and the character’s memories of memory become interwoven and ever more complex, without ever becoming heavy. The stories are sad but light, the climax of each story offering a window, a reflection, a pool of shimmery blue – never darkness, no finales, no deadends. 

Fraia’s novel begins, just like its literary totem Tolstoy’s The Sevastopol Sketches, with a section called ‘December.’ The narrator, speaking in the second person, tells of her obsession with climbing, and conquering, Mount Everest. Tolstoy’s narrator presents, using the second person, amputees and wounded soldiers. In this ‘December,’ Lena, the narrator, herself has lost her legs in a gruelling accident. She is melancholic due to her own hubris, the perils of celebrity, a fleeting affair. Lena is unreliable and brave, impulsive and sometimes foolish. She is young and yet, at certain turns, very wise. And now, when she can no longer climb, she keeps thinking, replaying the images over her past—all that innocence and ambition, going further and further back, as if she could excavate some sort of true self. This thinking, the constant replaying, is what ails her but also what gives us the beautiful nesting of stories, like a film that we can rewind into dust, beyond images and into the twilight: 

"I underwent seventeen surgeries. Who would ever think that one day you wake up feeling fine, going after your dream of climbing a mountain, and at journey’s end a piece of your body simply no longer exists? When asked how he coped, one of the thousands maimed 3 in the Crimean War said: The chief thing is not to think, it’s nothing much. It mostly all comes from thinking." 

Despite the fact that she’s trying to move on, to tell a personal story of redemption, the past keeps coming back to Lena. The past appears in a particularly uncanny way in an art gallery, where she encounters her own story in a video installation. Lena still talks to Gino, the lover who was with her at that defining moment, the hour of her accident. She asks him: 

"And if today everything came floating back, and I now find myself writing this to you, it’s because some things never leave us. I don’t expect a reply, Gino. But I do wonder: what’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?" 

Lena’s story is at once epic and almost tenderly mundane. This first story/chapter/section reveals itself as strange and touching. The reader, dare I say almost any reader, will be so engaged that s/he will turn the page and carry on to ‘May,’ where Fraia, following in Tolstoy’s phantom-like footsteps, will explore truce and truth. This story opens in an abandoned rural hotel deep in the Brazilian countryside: ‘It’s a place with rusty cutlery at the bottom of heavy drawers. Chipped cups, chairs stacked atop the stained carpet in the corner of an empty hall.’ Here begins the odd encounter and (mis)encounters between Nilo and Adán. We enter a layered tale, with echoes of amputations, violence, decay, wounded souls and lost limbs. Lena’s story is still within the prose, but her story is perhaps just in the soil. In this middle section the land, and the landscape, man’s relationship to the land and the landscape, and the cosmos, take centre stage: 

"Nilo looks up. Ahead, across the river, the lights come on in the house on Hermes’ farm. Nilo crosses the bridge. On the mountain, he can see the machines at work, the machines that uproot, strip, and stack the eucalyptus. A mountain is an attempt to get closer to the gods. Like in Egypt, and in many of the desert regions of Central America, there were no mountains. That’s why the Incas and the Aztecs needed to build the pyramids. The highest ones were chosen as altars, where the Incas took offerings and performed their ritual sacrifices. 4 In the east, night starts to roll in. The road disappears. On the mountain, the eucalyptus trees bow gently, I think the wind will carry them, I think they’re coming. The dead are at peace. Nilo hears a rumble. He cranes his neck. It’s the sound of an engine. A car. It seems to tear through the canopy, rising up from behind the eucalyptus trees, climbing the hillside. Echoing against the mountains. But then the noise seems to grow gradually quieter, falling away. It’s him. Adán. He’s leaving." 

The two men tells tales of their lives and the lives of others—other lands and animals, other lovers and children. In Fraia’s world—a magical Southern Cone—May is the season of echoes, of injured souls and Eucalyptus trees— both misplaced and medicinal. 

I began the last story, ‘August,’ also sensing an echo, a certain confusion. Had I read this story before? Perhaps in another language? There was a pace to the prose that reminded me of masters I’ve read in Spanish—Bolaño, but also Javier Cercas. But no, these stories are translated from the Portuguese, a language I don’t know. Ah, no it was a story I’d read, not in another language, but in another world—in a crowded restaurant, for goodness’ sake. This was the same story as the one titled ‘Sevastopol’ in The New Yorker, published way back in the final days of 2019. I had liked the story then, had found the characters charming, the ambiance familiar— the urban grittiness you find in certain cities of America: Santiago or Mexico City or New York. But over a year later, in my rooftop apartment during the greyest of Mediterranean winters, the story was much more than pleasurable or charming. Now, at the end of a collection, it was activating, the kind of story that ignites not memory but something better: imagination. ‘August’ is the sort of story that makes you want to write. Here, we meet two lost souls: Nadia and Klaus. And while they are sad, lonely, directionless, I envied their surroundings in the city of São Paulo: small, dark 5 theatres, tiny, crowded trattorias, smoke-filled apartments. Their dilemma—how to make art amongst the ruins—seemed universal and extraordinarily pertinent. 

The city of Sevastopol arrives to contemporary Brazil via postcard and comes to life through the play Klaus is writing, which ‘takes place in 1855, in Russia, during the Siege of Sevastopol’. Klaus, who Nadia tells us did political theatre in the 1970s, has written a play about a painter called Bogdan Trunov, who was very much in fashion during the war. That war and the fictional painter are part of the dreamlike backdrop of ‘August.’ But this final story is actually about something more timeless—a fleeting friendship between two eccentrics, one a young woman, the other an ageing man. This is a book about such friendships, about what we might even call literary flames, about those moments of love that have burnt out but not before setting so much ablaze. Emilio Fraia, with his devastatingly gentle prose, has given us a slim and stupendous debut, a novel for all seasons, a book about wounded comrades, about the land, a book about love and war.

sexta-feira, 22 de janeiro de 2021

sexta-feira, 8 de janeiro de 2021



Em junho, nos Estados Unidos, pela New Directions

Capa do Oliver Munday.