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Ice Trilogy (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – March 15, 2011
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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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Top customer reviews
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. At the same time, and not coincidentally, Alexander (Sasha) Snegirev, the trilogy's Adam, was born to a well-off family. Sasha's quiet idyllic childhood and his family are shattered by World War I, the Russian Revolution(s), and the subsequent Civil War. Abandoned and alone, Sasha makes his way through to University and from there he gets himself seconded to an expedition to Siberia to search for the site of the meteor crash. It is in Siberia that Sasha meets his destiny. The meteor is made of ice and Sasha hurls himself upon it and finds `salvation'. The ice speaks to him. Every planet in the universe is composed of 23,000 rays of light. The earth was a mistake and as the planet evolved the peace and harmony of the planet was ruined by humans. Sasha, now known to himself as Bro, hears the ice tell him to find the remaining 22,999 rays of light lying dormant in human bodies and wake them up. Once awake the 23,000 brothers and sisters together can return the earth to its original condition. One can only be woken by being struck in the heart by ice from the meteor. The rest of Bro sets up the beginnings of this organization of heart seekers.
Part 2, "Ice" is also born in violence. This volume was released independently in 2007 and, in the interests of brevity; the reviews there provide a decent summary of this volume. See Ice (New York Review Books Classics). Part 3, 23,000, takes us to the possible fulfillment of the heart-seekers' mission of releasing the light.
I was entranced by the book for a number of reasons. Bro surprised me in that it is mostly set out as a straight-forward narrative. This is very unlike Sorokin's other work and I sometimes wondered if this were the same Sorokin. Bro is a bit slow to develop and this may disappoint some who like their `fantasy' to start off in high gear and stay that way. However, once Sorokin sets up his structure, and it takes most of Bro to do so, the book takes off in classic Sorokin fashion.
Volume 2, Ice, goes back to my original notion that there are biblical overtones to this trilogy. You can see Sorokin taking us through this particular looking glass darkly. Like many sects, religions, ideologies, and so on the heart seekers motives are pure. They speak of seeing the light and speaking the language of the heart. They speak of a utopian destiny in which all the sins of the earth, of humanity, are subject to a great cleansing. But at the same time we read with some horror (a horror brought on by a sense of familiarity) at how these seekers of light seek go about achieving their brand of nirvana. Driving ice stakes into the heart of every blond haired blue eyed person they can get their hands on, even though they know only one in millions is part of the 23,000 they are studiously unconcerned for who gets hurt. The fact that these truth seekers are quintessential Aryans is disturbing to say the least. Taking on upper-level positions with the KGB and SS allows them to operate with impunity while they go ahead with their divine mission even though this means they participate in all the horrors known to the world as the Gulag and the Holocaust. Seeing non-heart-speaking humans as merely `meat-machines' not worthy of consideration completes this picture. There is no analysis or question of the ends justifying the means. There is just "the ends". There is no earthly morality, just a divined and total amorality. Sorokin paints a very grim picture of the heart seekers and in so doing paints a pretty grim and I would say pretty accurate picture of those who see salvation (be it through Marx or Jesus etc.) and care not a whit about the totalitarian temptations that drive them to brutal violence. Walt Kelly's character Pogo is famed for saying "we have met the enemy and he is us". Sorokin's Ice Trilogy takes this concept to its outer limits.
I've seen some reviews that compare Sorokin to Gogol and others to French-author Michel Houellebecq. I think that the comparison to Houellebecq is the more apt. They each do an excellent job of painting a grim picture of individuals and societies as an example of both moral and physical decay. Sorokin manages to explore these issues while at the same time telling a pretty exciting story that stands on its own as a well-written piece of fantasy. Grim though the undertones or message may be the story is far from dull. It was gripping and engaging.
The Ice Trilogy comes in at just under 700 pages. It didn't feel that long to me. It was well worth the investment and well worth reading. L. Fleisig
Yo, guys in the future: If you want to take over Earth you might want to do more than a meteor in Siberia and "ice hammers". Seriously?