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Ice Trilogy (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – March 15, 2011

3.2 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sorokin's epic trilogy, originally published between 2002 and 2005, expands the enigma of the 1908 Tunguska meteorite blast into an impressive merger of metaphysical fantasia and gritty conspiracy thriller. Following the impact, select humans realize they are actually cosmic entities and form a group called the Brotherhood in hopes of finding the way back to the Light. Though the relatively weak first book, Bro, is crippled by an excess of overwrought prose, Ice is a spectacular achievement, vividly exposing the eventual corruption and brutality surrounding even the noblest of goals, while 23,000 moves effectively outward to encompass those who fight to uncover and defeat the Brotherhood in a tense race against time. Though very slow to develop and marred somewhat by irritating redundancies and areas where disbelief is difficult to suspend, the trilogy builds into both a gripping story and an impressive metaphorical window into the 20th-century Soviet experience, offering substantial rewards to the patient and thoughtful reader. (Mar.)
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"Sorokin completed the three novels of the Ice Trilogy in 2008. Now, thanks to a translation by Jamey Gambrell that heroically endeavours to capture its myriad voices, from watercolour lyricism to purest pulp, we can enjoy it in all its gaudy glory. Think William S Burroughs, and Michel Houellebecq, and Will Self, all whizzed into this delirious post-Soviet SF mash-up. I found some sections absolutely exquisite, some unexpectedly moving, some intellectually exhilarating - and plenty just grotesque and absurd, as Sorokin no doubt planned....  Ice Trilogy becomes extraordinary when Sorokin drives this old dystopian banger off the fantasy highway and into the darkest places of the Russian – and European – 20th century. In one bravura set-piece after another, he not only re-visits key tragedies of modern times, but mimics – or re-voices – the literary styles that partner them. ....  In the first volume, Bro, we begin in Chekhov territory...The middle volume, Ice, begins in the 1990s with an outlandish parody not so much of Russian life in the heyday of Yeltsin and the oligarchs as the West's cartoon representation of it.....Then in one of Sorokin's trademark lurches, we switch back to a noble Vasily Grossman-esque wartime drama... In the final part, 23,000, these wilful collisions grow more extreme. A Spielberg-style finale leaves us frozen in the postmodern fix...."  --Boyd Tonkin, The Independent


“So we yearn for certainty, salvation, the absolute-what's wrong with that? We always have and we always will. Go ahead, Sorokin seems to say; you can't really help it. Just be careful what you wish for. . . . Those readers (and reviewers) who turn to literature for consolation, or moral enlightenment, or lessons in self-esteem, are well advised to look elsewhere.”

-Christian Caryl, The New York Review of Books

“The Ice Trilogy is devoted to the fortunes of an apocalyptic Brotherhood whose members believe they are bodily incarnations of a primordial light. But they are only made aware of their true identity be being ‘awakened’, in a process that involves being bashed in the chest with a hammer made of ice….The fact that the readers see events through the Brotherhood’s eyes is a powerful estranging device: we are forced to accept as legitimate the perspective of delusional psychopaths, and constantly made to reread history from their point of view. This is the most provocative aspect of the trilogy: its aspiration to unsettle conventional historical narratives.” – Tony Wood, London Review of Books


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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590173864
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173862
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 1.4 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #552,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lonya VINE VOICE on March 30, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Psalm 147:17

The ice gets cast forth like rice at a wedding in Vladimir Sorokin's dark, Russian fantasy, "Ice Trilogy". Sorokin's work is well-known in Russia and the subject of much controversy. One of his earlier books, Blue Lard, was the subject of a lawsuit brought by a Russian nationalist group claiming that his depiction of `intimate relations' between a clone of Stalin and a clone of Khrushchev was pornographic and defamed the Russian people. Not unexpectedly the suit resulted in a tremendous increase in sales. Similarly, in the newly-released Day of the Oprichnik: A Novel, Sorokin looks at a futuristic Russia and sees a world where violence and brutality are the norm.

In an interview with Spiegel, the German magazine, Sorokin has stated that "[a]s a child I perceived violence as a sort of natural law. In the totalitarian Soviet Union, oppression held everything together. It was the sinister energy of our country. I had that sense by as early as kindergarten and grade school. Later on I wanted to understand why human beings are unable to do without violence. It's a mystery I haven't solved to this day. Yes, violence is my main theme." I think this bit of background is essential to any review of The Ice Trilogy.

Written as three separate volumes and sold as one book by NYRB, Ice Trilogy has an almost biblical story-line. Part 1, "Bro", starts off with what can be called the book's Genesis: the Tunguska Event. On June 30, one of the largest meteorites ever to enter the earth's atmosphere struck down in the middle of Siberia. Scientists have estimated that the blast hit Siberia with the same force as a 15-megaton nuclear blast.
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Format: Paperback
If you'd previously read the single volume "Ice" published by NYRB, then you'll be pleased that the complete trilogy has been published in this edition. Somewhat strangely, that single previously-published volume is actually the middle book of the trilogy. The trilogy includes a prequel, "bro", and then the concluding novel, "23,000." Overall, most readers should know that the Publisher's Weekly review quoted above by Amazon is an entirely accurate assessment of this book. I'll expand on it a little more in this review.

The premise of this speculative-fiction trilogy is intriguing. The execution, however, is mediocre. Sorokin has been described as a Russian Houellebecq, but he is a distinctly weaker writer; this is not "The Possibility of an Island, v.2." Throughout the trilogy, Sorokin never finds a way to make the narrative propulsive in a cohesive sense. Again and again we read about a new awakening via the ice hammer ceremony. Yet there is no antagonist that the Brotherhood fights. It's just endless new awakenings, building up over time, each one involving a different kind of person. The short vignettes for each new victim are not particularly interesting, and they do not add up to the kind of insightful encyclopedic survey that the author seems to be aiming for. Sorokin has audacity and imagination. He could use more skill.

Simply put, the author's basic idea about the Brotherhood is interesting. The Brotherhood's highly-sensitive moralism of "the Heart" forms a paradoxical contrast with its brutal violent campaigns. But on reflection, that paradox is actually a defining characteristic of the worst political movements, here making their appearance in the form of Stalinism and Nazism. So the metaphorical idea is a great subject.
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Since I read a brief excerpt of Sorokin in translation in 1997, it has always been disgracefully hard to get hold of his writing. So I was ecstatic when Ice was translated and I wasn't disappointed. Ice is easy to read; most of it is a collection of first person narratives, the experience of the characters as they first come across the Ice and then as they develop from their original human status to being enlightened, and the consequent dehumanization of their perception of those around them. The core conceit - that in order to awaken the hearts of the chosen, one must beat their chest-plates with an Ice hammer until either the heart speaks its name or they, well, usually die - is a beautifully absurd combination of violence and the sacred, of totalitarianism and New Age. This tension is at the core of the book: the elevated, transcendent aims of the Ice cult (which are treated as objective fact) versus the grotesquely violent reality of their acts. The reader becomes detached from human suffering throughout until very much toward the end when human/"meat machine" protagonists are introduced. The book shifts focus, shifts narrator and voice, and with each shift carries the reader and his/her sympathies. Superbly written, fascinating, ugly and magnificent, it has a scope and vision that is beyond western contemporary literature. It has a lot more in common with film directors like Lynch and Jodorowsky than it does most printed matter these days. Highest recommendation.
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Format: Paperback
I picked up this book to get a taste of some more modern Russian science fiction. It started out with an interesting slant on the Tunguska event in 1908. In this book the event was the landing of a huge ice mass that has the latent ability to convert humans to a state of true understanding.

Fair enough. But by the end of the book I had been bombarded by so much repetition and a co-responding lack of good ideas that I was actually angry that I had wasted so much time.

If you want the Ice Trilogy experience on the cheap, find a MP3 player and record "ice hammer" "heart awakening" "meat machine" and "twenty-three". Then put it on shuffle and repeat for twenty hours. That's what reading this book is like.

Russia has many great writers; Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekov.... Do yourself a favor and read a book by one of these writers. Even binge watching "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" is a better use of your time.

Vladimir Sorokin should be ashamed for this addition to the roll call of Russian literature. If writing this negative review will keep just one person from wasting their time, I'd say my life has served a very useful purpose.
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