Why did I keep reading? For one, I wanted to finish the book to get a feel for why Sorokin has caused so much controversy. One lesson learned: Sorokin’s love for writing about bathroom-related topics made it obvious why Putin’s youth group Walking Together (Идущие вместе) used a toilet to collect Sorokin books during a protest.
Still, I have to, grudgingly, give Sorokin some credit: he has a decent sense of timing and knows how to manipulate the reader to finish a book. Just as the violence and abuse in Ice became too much, Sorokin shifted his narrative. By this point, it was too late for me to put the book down because my interest was piqued. Would the book get better? Were the hammerers an Aryan cult? What did the heart have to do with everything? Or anything? Would I send my copy of Ice to Russia for a flush?
I finished and kept it. The book calmed down some but didn’t exactly improve, meaning that, unfortunately, the answers to the other questions are murky. In terms of meaning, Ice is as empty as the heartless victims of the hammer, and I won’t consult the other installments of Sorokin’s trilogy for further clarification. Once is enough, thanks.
One positive: as Ice progresses, Sorokin rather cleverly shows the group altering its operations to fit societal changes, operating under KGB cover during the Stalin years and later distributing ice hammers for home use.
Although Sorokin has said that this is his first book where content is more important than form and that he believes the book is about the search for a lost spiritual paradise rather than about totalitarianism, I can’t buy his supposed sincerity. Ice is about a utopian abstraction, not real people.
That leads to another problem. Ice also feels, to me, like a confused and ambiguous statement about the Soviet past, where another perverted utopian abstraction took precedence over real people. Like the Soviet regime, the hammerers abuse their power to lead a chosen few toward the promise of a bright future, meanwhile pounding at the chests of the less fortunate masses, whom they condemn to death and ignomy. It’s an odd form of compassion.
Somehow, it seems fitting that my copy of Ice is flawed: the book’s innards are glued upside down inside the cover. Perhaps even the publisher isn’t sure which end is up. Paging Ostap Bender…
Summary: Not particularly recommended except as an insight into what some Russians are reading these days. Ice, a combination of melodramatic kitsch, science fiction, and pop philosophy, is a book that gets under your skin and reads quickly if you get hooked in. Not for the faint of heart (sorry) or those impatient with postmodernist manipulation of genre or readers. The translation looked quite decent in spot checks, though the first section seemed overly colloquial. Jamey Gambrell’s English-language translation of Ice was published by the New York Review of Books in the icy depths of January 2007.
PDF of Ice, Chapter One
Ice (New York Review Books Classics) on Amazon