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Ice Road: A Novel Paperback – April 17, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

South African novelist and playwright Slovo--Red Dust (2001)--delivers a chilling historical novel about a group of Soviets living in Leningrad between the world wars. The tale opens with the observations of Irina Davydovna, a simple cleaning woman who survived the sinking of the Chelyuskin (an actual research ship that became ice-bound on its way to the Arctic in 1933). Irina delivers devastating descriptions of the Soviet Union--Stalin's military purges, the murder of Leningrad Chief Sergei Mironovich Kirov, the desperation of citizens in the clutches of an oppressive political regime. The novel loses steam when it switches to third-person narrative, highlighting the precarious personalities that populate Irina's life. Among them: her employer Boris Alexsandrovich, a government official torn between loyalty to his family and loyalty to the state; moody intellectual Anton Antonovich; and a fearless orphan named Anya. While Slovo's narrative may be uneven, her prose is luminous, evoking a landscape as cold and deadly as an ice pick to the heart. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


A deep and satisfying read. -- Sarah Dunant, author of The Birth of Venus

Powerful and moving...[its] epic scope never obscures the individual lives that are lived in the shadow of great events. -- Pat Barker, author of the Booker Prize-winning The Ghost Road

Readers will not easily forget this novel, nor should they. It has something to teach us all. -- Jay Parini, author of The Apprentice Lover

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393327205
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393327205
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,244,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Lena on September 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
Actually, it's a pity that this book got so little attention in North America. I can not be really objective, being born in Leningrad and living there for the first 20 years of my life. So, reading the "Ice road" returned me to the good - and not so good - old times in Russia. But this is not the only, and not even the main reason for me to enjoy the book. First of all, it is a real story. Well, it is real in a sense, that this story truly has happened to many people - and all of them had to go through grief, losses, betrayal, doubts... and this was the system that broke the people down. Read the book, and you understand how it works - something that will help you to discover one of those infamous "Russian mysteries".

Secondly, I was truly amazed to see that Slovo, who never has been in Russia, was able to find the right words, to paint the right atmosphere and describe all these Soviet hard idealists better than most Soviet writers that I know. This is a very impressive thing to perform from South Africa.

Bottom line? Highly recommended. If you want to read a really good book, which will make you both to turn the pages at 2am, to cry and to think, pick this one.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By S. A. Waggoner on July 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
I read this books six months ago and am still thinking about it -- and still dismayed that it seems not to have gotten the attention it deserves. Without being pedantic or sacrificing a wonderful and readable story, the author does a phenomenal job of capturing the paranoia and everyday cruelty of Stalinism, and gives us a harrowing glimpse of life during the Seige of Leningrad.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
In 1934, Irina Davydovna is sent on a fated Artic expedition, along the coast of Siberia and back. Trapped in the Arctic ice with her shipmates, the author perfectly captures Irina's sense of isolation, the eerie crackling sound of the ice floes pressing against the ship and the helplessness of their predicament in this frozen, indifferent world: "I have grown heavy with hope and with belief. I have dared to dream." In an enormous rescue effort, most of the crew is saved, including Irina, although the ship is lost to the depths of the ocean.

Later, Irina finds employment in the household of Anton Antonovich Abramov, once a close friend of Boris Aleksandrovich, and his adopted daughter. Although the orphan child, Anya, never warms to her more welcoming circumstances, Irina is content to have a place in the home of a respected man after the terrifying, near-fatal experience in the Arctic. Irina watches the metamorphosis of her nation, a woman given to obedience and respect for those in power. But these are dangerous times, neighbor spying on neighbor as those of questionable motives join the ranks of the disappeared.

The vital Natasha, daughter of Boris Aleksandrovich Ivanov, is in love with Kolya and eager for marriage. Natasha is in the bloom of youth, beautiful and covertly watched by many male admirers, her father's favorite child. The couple is married and has a child, Katya, when Kolya is arrested.

Natasha is bereft when Kolya is arrested, her life now precarious, a social outcast. Natasha marries the jealous, uninspired Dmitry Fedorovich, the epitome of an inflexible Stalinist regime, her one opportunity to secure her future and that of her daughter. Desperately unhappy, Natasha is riddled with questions about Kolya's fate, but fearful of her husband's power.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Hackshadows on September 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
Gillian Slovo's Ice Road is a great book. She deftly managed to weave together the compelling stories of a handful of people in St Petersburg in the midst of the first wave of mass killings in Stalinist Russia in the 1930s.

I have looked into this period of history for some time and am aware of all the debate surrounding it. The late 1930s (particularly 1937 and 1938) are the most well known period of mass persecution and have taken a large place in our historical consciousness. When someone refers to Stalinist totalitarianism, they refer to the 1930s. But anyone who reads Solzhenitsyn knows that this was not the period of the worst Stalinist excess - that belongs to the years following world war II. But we know so much more about 1937-38 because the people persecuted in it were intellectuals and writers who have left such a large footprint in the historical record, as opposed to the mainly workers and military people who were persecuted in the later period and remained largely silent.

Bit of a diversion, but yes, Slovo did a wonderful job of capturing this period. I didn't give it 5 stars on literary reasons (it could have used some editing), but as a historical novel the book succeeds brilliantly. One thing though - Kolya's family in all likelihood would not have learned that he was dead until after 1956. Many (perhaps most) people executed in the late 30s were disposed of in secret. Their families were told they were sent for ten years to a distant labour camp "without the right of correspondence" and their families would only find out years, if not decades later, that the person was killed soon after being arrested. In other words, the reality would probably have been even more heart wrenching and terrible than the picture Slovo paints.
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