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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Vladivostok Circus

Elisa Shua Dusapin

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To purchase Vladivostok Circus

Title: Vladivostok Circus
Author: Elisa Shua Dusapin
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 180 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Vladivostok Circus - US
Vladivostok Circus - UK
Vladivostok Circus - Canada
Vladivostok Circus - Canada (French)
Vladivostok Circus - France
Vladivostok Circus - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • French title: Vladivostok Circus
  • Translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins

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Our Assessment:

B : nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 26/1/2024 Matthew Janney
The Guardian . 14/2/2024 Arin Keeble

  From the Reviews:
  • "Propulsion, attraction, gravity and suspension become important motifs in Nathalie’s costume designs, just as they are thematically for Elisa Shua Dusapin in the context of human relationships. (...) I found myself asking: why Vladivostok ? Dusapin seems less interested in making any kind of specific geopolitical point, but rather in asking a more human question about our sense of place, and what happens to us when the signs and symbols we use to parse the world have been twisted out of shape. (...) Dusapin writes in steady, almost hypnotic prose -- lucidly translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins -- with short, staccato sentences often consisting of only six or seven words." - Matthew Janney, Financial Times

  • "(A) quiet, meditative story of shared endeavour. Though gentle, its emotional complexity means it is Dusapin’s most accomplished work yet. Ironically, its gentleness also makes it a forceful riposte to the individualism and competitiveness that can dominate social and working life. And with its international cast and narrative of cooperation, it is particularly resonant in this moment of proliferating geopolitical conflict. (...) Vladivostok Circus is about people trying to work and create together and the solidarity and friendship that shared endeavour can foster." - Arin Keeble, The Guardian

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:

       Vladivostok Circus is narrated by Nathalie, a twenty-two-year-old recent graduate in fashion design who has landed a short-term contract to design costumes for a new 'Russian bar'-act which a trio of performers is planning to premiere at a circus festival competition in Ulan-Ude -- "a big event, one of the biggest". The trio performs at the Vladivostok Circus, and Nathalie arrives just as the circus season is winding down; she, the performers, and Leon, their manager and all-around circus-technician, then stay at the circus compound by themselves as the new number is being prepared.
       Nathalie actually has some familiarity with Vladivostok -- she lived there when her father had a position at the local university, for two years, starting when she was six, just after her mother died; her father now works in the United States, at MIT, for NASA. Interspersed with the narrative are a handful of letters Nathalie wrote to her father, giving brief glimpses of her life in the years after the events chronicled here.
       The performers are Anton, who is already in his sixties, and Nino, who shoulder the bar, and Anna, who is fairly new to the group. Nino comes from circus-folk -- his family run a circus in Germany -- and started working with Anton when he was just eight, some two decades ago; Anton was famous -- he had: "a long career performing with his wife" -- when he took Nino on, and they have also enjoyed great success ("Anton and Nino are big stars"). Their bar routine used to feature Anton's son, Igor, but after a terrible accident he hasn't performed in some five years; his replacement, Anna, -- a former trampoline champion -- is now preparing for her first competition, where: "they're going to attempt the dangerous triple jump with Anna, four times in a row".
       Divided into three parts, the narrative meanders forward through the weeks of preparation-time (with only Nathalie's (future) letters to her father shaking the timeline some). Nathalie at first takes a room in the nearby city, but soon joins the others at the otherwise abandoned circus compound. They occasionally venture into town, but are mostly on their own -- along with a cat.
       As the letters suggest, Nathalie's distant father -- his dislike of flying keeping him ground-bound on another continent -- and her relationship with him is on her mind some. There's also filmmaker Thomas: Nathalie insists: "He's not my boyfriend", but clearly she can't quite shake him either (though her actual contact while in Vladivostok seems limited to e-mailing him for a recipe). Nathalie already has a job lined up when this gig is over, at the Théâtre National de Bretagne but for now, as Nino notes, she's: "run away, all the way to Vladivostok". And, indeed, she's about as far away from the world -- and people -- she knows as she can get: as she realizes when she considers the travel involved to get back into place:

Whichever route I take, I'll have to cross more than one continent. I'm as far away from my destination as it's possible to be.
       The novel does have a clear progression and arc of sorts -- the preparation of the new act, with the quartet then heading to Ulan-Ude for the grand performance -- but Dusapin is more interested in the day-to-day, and the personal relationships. The promise of the spectacular quadruple-triple jump as climax, and the danger involved, of course help maintain some tension and suspense, but Dusapin is much more interested in presenting the characters, at these stages in their lives, than some showy final act. As her letters also make clear -- ultimately very clear --, this short period of being a part of this group is only an episode in Nathalie's life; her true, intimate and lasting personal connections are elsewhere, with others.
       It makes for an often understated-seeming story -- symbolically freighted, especially with all the flying about in the air, and the types of reliance on others. So too with the animals -- the cat, and then a bird that flies into a window. It's nicely done, and quite effective -- similar, in overall feel, to Dusapin's previous works, too. The letters to her father show glimpses of an older, somewhat settled Nathalie (though she does write that, after a few years on the job: "I probably won't renew my contract"), but for the most part Dusapin sticks with that familiar young-woman-in-a-very-foreign-place set-up also found in her previous novels; it'll be interesting to see what she does once she moves beyond that.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 March 2024

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Vladivostok Circus: Reviews: Other books by Elisa Shua Dusapin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French-writing author Elisa Shua Dusapin was born in 1992.

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© 2024 the complete review

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