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Ice Trilogy (New York Review Books Classics)…

Ice Trilogy (New York Review Books Classics) (edition 2011)

by Vladimir Sorokin, Jamey Gambrell (Translator)

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2381072,965 (3.42)59
Title:Ice Trilogy (New York Review Books Classics)
Authors:Vladimir Sorokin
Other authors:Jamey Gambrell (Translator)
Info:NYRB Classics (2011), Paperback, 704 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned

Work details

Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin

  1. 00
    Indigo by Clemens J. Setz (bluepiano)
    bluepiano: I'm not sure why Ice came to mind several times whilst I read Indigo, but it did, possibly because both works deal with a group of people who are markedly different from and a danger to society at large. Both works are great fun--Sorokin's for the story and atmosphere and Setz's for the story and the narrative tricks.… (more)

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Ice Trilogy consists of three novels: Bro, Ice, and 23,000. It appears most readers begin with Ice or read Ice in isolation - reasonable enough since I see several references to Ice as the #1 book of the Ice Trilogy.

This New York Review Books edition starts with Bro then moves to Ice and 23,000. Author Vladimir Sorokin intended this order, although he wrote Bro after Ice.

A new underground comic book could be created based on this Vladimir Sorokin novel: BRO - Ice from the primordial light awakened his dormant heart. And now he seeks other blonde, blue-eyed brothers and sisters chosen by the light to have their hearts likewise awakened

Bro is the true Volume #1 of the author's Ice Trilogy. The title Bro is taken from the name of the novel’s protagonist following his awakening by the Primordial Light. Frequently, Bro is listed as Volume #2 since Vladimir Sorokin wrote this novel after Ice. However, it should be pointed out, Bro precedes Ice chronologically and Bro also provides the needed context for Ice. Therefore Bro most definitely should be read before Ice.

Bro is simply amazing - what starts off in the first few chapters as a work in the tradition of great Russian nineteenth century literature shifts briefly to Soviet-era Socialist Realist scientific exploration before shifting again, this time to the bulk of the novel: a combination new age Gnostic sacred text, science fiction thriller and the adventures of a comic book superhero. Whoa, baby - what a gripping read!

It all starts with Alexander Snegirev relating the facts of his early life: he was born on June 30, 1908 with a clasp of thunder (a critically important date as he discovers at age twenty), his stern, wealthy Russian businessman father and loving mother raised him along with his older brothers and sisters; how, at age ten, his childhood ended with an act of violence during the Russian Revolution that left him roaming from city to city for four years. He moves in with his poverty-stricken old aunt, attends school and finally astronomy lectures at university where he is given the opportunity to join a scientific expedition to unearth and scrutinize pieces of one of the largest meteors ever to reach our planet, the Tungus Meteorite that exploded in Siberia on the exact date of his birth.

Reflecting back on his past life, Alexander notes there was one thing that both frightened and attracted him in childhood, a recurring dream where he is at the base of an enormous mountain. In the dream his body begins to crumble and fall apart and then abruptly “my spine broke and I collapsed into wet pieces and fell backward. That's when I saw the summit. It shone WITH LIGHT. The light was so bright that I disappeared in it. This felt so awfully good that I woke up." Foreshadowing with a vengeance.

Out in Siberia on expedition, Alexander suddenly dreams his recurrent dream, only with a difference: he sees the Light departing and disappearing forever; he cries out to the Mountain not to die. Just at that moment he senses a shift in his heart, that something else lives in his heart connecting him to the Mountain. Thereafter Alexander experiences great joy and feels beckoned forward by an undefined presence.

Then one morning our protagonist sits before a fire and can see his carefree childhood, his tormented life resulting from loss of family and orphanhood, his teenage student years all appear before him as if gathered under glass - they harden and detach themselves from him forever, all instantly becoming the past. Oh, yes, a frequently reported feature of the mystical experience - one's prior conventional identity and concerns appear as colossal illusion to be blown away as if a mere soap bubble.

Not long thereafter Alexander runs away from the all the others and their camp. Once alone in the forest he tastes the bliss of freedom: “The absolute silence of the world amazed me. The earthly world froze in front of me in the greatest calm. And for the first time in my life I felt distinctly the vile vulgarity of this world.”

Alexander presses on until he reaches an area covered with ice and is seized by ecstasy. He comes upon a particular mass of ice and moves out on the ice and falls, slamming his chest against the ice. “Then my heart began to resound from the blow of the Ice. And I immediately felt the entire MASS of the Ice. It was enormous. And the whole thing was vibrating, resonating in time with my heart. For me alone. My heart, which had been sleeping for all these twenty years inside my rib cage, awoke. It didn’t beat harder, but sort of jolted - at first it was painful, then it was sweet. And then quivering, it spoke. “Bro-bro-bro . . . Bro-bro-bro. Bro-bro-bro . . . I understood. This was my real name.”

The Ice beneath him vibrates. He feels the Ice and himself hanging alone in the universe. His awakened heart begins to listen attentively to the Music of Eternal Harmony. Bro is told many things about the universe and his place within it, including: in the beginning there was only Primordial Light; The Light consists of 23,000 Light-bearing rays and he, Bro, is one of them; the Light’s mistake was creating this flawed, unstable, disharmonious Earth, leading to the greatest mistake - human beings; this huge piece of Heavenly Ice was sent to open the hearts of 23,000 Brothers and Sisters held hostage by the Earth to help them become 23,000 rays of Primordial Light once again; You, Bro, must find your Brothers and Sisters and come together in a great Circle.

Now that’s extreme! You can see why I said a comic book based on the novel would be fringe or underground. I wonder how many mainstream readers would swallow the place humans are assigned by the novel’s Primordial Light.

We can speculate as to why Vladimir Sorokin wrote this novel. Does he find our modern word disgusting? Is he writing in the same spirit when his countryman Alexander Solzhenitsyn stated: “The human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, exemplified by the revolting invasion of commercialism, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.”

Or is the author targeting religion? Although there’s next to nothing included about Christianity or any other religion, Bro does begin with two quotes, one from the Bible and this from Gregory Palamas, a great Saint within the Eastern Orthodox Church: “And so, brethren, let us lay aside works of darkness and turn to works of the light.”

Or many other possibilities. Such a bizarre, quizzical work but a work of tremendous imagination and philosophical depth. I can see why Vladimir Sorokin has many fans among young readers. I mean, having his protagonist refer to “ordinary” humans as meat machines and seeing World War II as a battle between the Land of Order and the Land of Ice is, if nothing else, unique - and that's understatement.

ICE - Volume #2
Riveting. Absolutely riveting.

And this riveting, spellbinding novel comes in two different flavors. You get to choose which one might suit your taste.

Flavor number one is to read Bro before Ice. Flavor number two is reading Ice without having read Bro. Permit me to elaborate.

Bro is Volume #1 of Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy. Bro is the first person account of how a young Russian by the name of Alexander Snegirey has his heart awakened by Primordial Light in 1928. As part of his awakening he is given the name of Bro and told he must find his Brothers and Sisters who have also been chosen to likewise have their hearts awakened. The novel takes readers on Bro’s breathtaking adventure up until 1950. Ice continues the thread of the story beginning in the year 2000. Thus Bro provides not only historic context for Ice but puts the reader in the know about those who come to have their hearts awakened.

I'm glad I read Bro prior to reading Ice since I generally like to follow a story chronologically. Added to this, I would make the world's worst detective - much better for me to know the basic facts of what's going on rather than being kept in the dark.

British critic Michael Froggatt disagrees. In his review for Strange Horizons Mr. Froggatt judges Ice the strongest novel in the trilogy and goes on to say how reading Bro lessens the mystery and suspense of Ice. He concludes by suggesting a reader who is interested in tackling Vladimir Sorokin's Ice Trilogy to begin with Ice and work outwards.

Either way, Ice possesses an intensity, a surging drive right from the first pages. The narrative voice is detached, hard-edge, objective, as if a journalist recording the nitty-gritty of combat in a war zone. We encounter drug dealers, drug addicts, prostitutes, bottom of the barrel ruck and their coarse, crude, brutal, blunt way of speaking and dealing with one another – a novel not for the squeamish.

Many of the men and women are given a special call-out. Two examples: “Ilona: 17 years old, tall, thin, with a lively laughing face, leather pants, platform shoes, a white top.” - “Borenboim: 44 years old, medium height, thinning blonde hair, an intelligent face, blue eyes, thin glasses in gold frames, a dark green three-piece suit."

There’s mystery afoot, a stroke of Vladimir Sorokin infusion of radical myth mixed in with cosmic science fiction: these denizens of Moscow’s concrete canyons wonder what the hell is going on with the ice and all those primitive looking ice hammers. And the shift in their feelings. The contrast between the scummy day-to- day lives of these people and what they eventually feel in their hearts is quite striking: hard-as-nails drug kingpin Borenboim talking about his tender heart; likewise Nikolaeva the prostitute - very funny in an odd, offbeat way.

Two glimmers of refinement in this dank, cesspool world: Boremboim has a collection of Borges stories in his briefcase and Mozart is playing softly at a rehabilitation center. In Moscow 2000 overflowing with hard rock and liquor, gadgets, computer games and Hollywood posters, to know at least somebody appreciates Borges and Mozart is most refreshing.

Part Two switches to an old lady’s first person account retracing her childhood in a poor Russian village under Nazi occupation and her joining others villagers herded off to Germany to work in a factory. But then something remarkable happens. She’s singled out since she has blonde hair and blue eyes. What follows thereafter ties her to a strange brotherhood. Her worldview is forever transformed – from 1950 right up until 2000, the grueling, gritty details of her earthbound, everyday routine take a distant second to her true identity and mission.

One of the most stimulation dimensions of Ice is the way in which the story raises a number of philosophical issues. How bound are member of a particular religious cult or sect by their beliefs? Jim Jones and the mass suicides/mass murders in Jonestown, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians going up in flames in their compound in Waco, Marshall Applewhite leading Heaven’s Gate members in mass suicide - we need only think of these events to know that sects and cults can be closely linked to violence and death.

And considering the frequent instances of torture, imprisonment and murder throughout history perpetuated in the name of religion, how far are the major religions removed from sects and cults? Any time members view others through the lens of “us versus them” watch out. Brutality and viciousness of one stripe or the other usually isn’t far behind.

What are we to make of the fellowship in Ice? Those initiates speak of opening the heart but how open is their heart to those outside their fellowship? Referring to “ordinary” humans as meat machines unworthy of life has a frightening ring. And this reference to libraries; "Thousands of meat machines were always sitting there, engaged in silent madness: they attentively leafed through sheets of paper covered with letters." Sounds like a rant spouted by a semi-illiterate thug.

Witnessing the horrors of twentieth century totalitarian governments is hardly less disturbing. And how about the omnipresence of contemporary multinational corporations? Perhaps Vladimir Sorokin in his sly way is commenting on the dangers of all forms of power and coercion reducing individuals to hungry consumers or meat machines.

Even if Ice is the only novel within the trilogy one reads, it is well worth it. For fans of the author, both old and new, nothing short of all three volumes will do.

23,000 - VOLUME #3
23,000 is Volume #3, the final volume of Vladimir Sorokin's Ice Trilogy. Similar to Volume #1 and #2, Bro and Ice, 23,000 contains elements of new age Gnosticism, science fiction fantasy, international crime thriller and underground comic book. An extraordinary accomplishment by an extraordinary author.

I could not locate even one comprehensive review of this novel, a fact I find completely baffling. By my judgement, each volume of Ice Trilogy is nothing less than a remarkable literary achievement. I strongly suspect all three novels forming Vladimr Sorokin's trilogy will be widely read and vastly more appreciated in years to come. I would even go further - I predict Ice Trilogy will be judged a key work of early twenty-first century literature.

Volume #3's opening scene sets the stage: it’s 2004 and members of the Brotherhood of Primordial Light rescue a blue-eyed five-year old boy with blonde hair, pack him up in a suitcase and drive him away so that he may receive the necessary bash on the chest by a special ice ax to awaken his dormant heart.

Herein lies the conflict. Is the boy being rescued or is he being kidnapped? Those familiar with Bro and Ice will appreciate this clashing of worldviews. For those readers unfamiliar, here’s the skinny: the Primordial Light, creator of the universe, needs 23,000 shinning rays to join together in order to merge with Eternity. Most rays have been awakened since 1928 via blows to human chests by ax heads made from Tungus Ice. But a number of rays are still held captive in human bodies. One unfortunate consequence of all this chest bashing over the years: although many humans possessed the necessary prerequisites - blue eyes and blonde hair – their hearts did not awaken when bashed with an ice hammer since they were not among the chosen 23,000.

Another important fact: the Primordial Light revealed to the first awakened heart back in 1928 that life on Earth is THE big mistake of the cosmos. And the biggest mistake of all: human beings, forever desiring and suffering, caught in the web of conflict and wars, disharmony, sickness, disease and death.

Thus we have the battle of the universe: it’s the Primordial Light versus humans. In many respects Ice Trilogy is Star Wars in reverse - rather than humans aligned with the forces of good (may the force be with you) against the Evil Empire, in Vladimir Sorokin’s trilogy, humans are meat machines pitted against the Primordial Light, the Tungus Ice, the 23,000 rays.

For fans of Bro and Ice, the news is good - 23,000 keeps the petal to the metal in this gripping, high octane adventure. And such provocative storytelling, popping back and forth between first and third person narrators, between member of the Brotherhood of the Light and those “ordinary” meat machine humans.

And 23,000 goes global – action and more action from Moscow and New York to Tel Aviv, Munich, Tokyo and Hong Kong. So much at stake with the future of life on Earth in the balance.

One very human side of the story revolves around a single, college educated young lady by the name of Olga Drobot living alone in her Manhattan apartment. Olga along with her mother and father were taken by force to a deserted field to have their chests smashed by a primitive ice hammer. The repetitive blows caused the death of both her parents. Her captors left her to die but somehow she survived.

Confused, shocked, completely at a loss as to why people would do such a thing, Olga conducts some independent research and comes across the website icehammervictims.org.. Olga reads the story of other unfortunates subjected to similar brutalities. She corresponds with one such victim, Bjorn, a Swede, who likewise survived the ice hammer although Bjorn’s brother wasn’t so lucky. Together Olga and Bjorn dig deeper into the mystery.

The pair's detective work results in a number of unexpected twists and convolutions readers are best discovering on their own. I will segue to more general questions Olga, Bjorn and other ice hammer victims ponder in their confrontation with the Brotherhood of the Light.

They come to discover a phenomenon heretofore unparalleled in human history: a decisive difference between the Ice Brotherhood and any known sect or cult is the fact that after having their hearts awakened by the ice ax, the transformation is so radical, in many respects, members no longer share our common human experience; they might as well be aliens. And, of course, they can't return to their former pre-ax lives, even if they wanted to. Much different than any sect or cult, since cult members can always switch and desire to leave (in many cases they are held by force) or turn against the cult (from the cult's perspective, become traitors to their group and the truths the group holds dear).

Let me explain the meaning of the above statement in more detail. When members of the Ice Brotherhood hug chest to chest so their hearts can speak to each other, time stops, their physical bodies “freeze,” that is, all bodily functions cease – no breathing, no heartbeat, no pulse, no ability to see or hear their immediate surroundings, no feelings or sensations (for example: they will not feel a knife thrust in their stomach or back). This "frozen" state can last for hours.

Added to this, on a metaphysical level, members KNOW the origin of life and the precise meaning of their present lives. Additionally, members of the Brotherhood of the Light KNOW the exact details of how they will merge with the Primordial Light in eternity. Quite different from our ordinary human experience where these three questions are the great unknowns and any answers are a matter of belief.

When Olga learns all of these startling facts from an older victim who has had firsthand experience of the Brotherhood of the Light, her way of looking at the world is shaken. She reflects on the possibility that the Brotherhood actually possesses the truth, that humans are, in fact, divided into the chosen and unchosen, that the chosen are capable of speaking with their hearts and will become rays of light at some future time while the Earth and all forms of life on the planet will completely disappear.

To explore such questions and find out what happens to the Brotherhood of the Light along with Olga, Bjorn and life on Earth, I highly recommend reading 23,000. And for those more ambitious readers, reading all three volumes of Ice Trilogy. Either way, buckle up for an exhilarating ride. ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
Whoa. Not for everyone. But definitely for me! Relates the epic destructiveness of human culture in the 20th century to our drive towards transcendence (be that religious or scientific/technological). It asks the reader to try to understand the viewpoint of essentially in-human beings, and an order to the universe that may not ideally include people. Tough stuff, but utterly fascinating and grandly entertaining to those that have a dark, philosophical bent. ( )
  Chamblyman | May 20, 2018 |
Whoa. Not for everyone. But definitely for me! Relates the epic destructiveness of human culture in the 20th century to our drive towards transcendence (be that religious or scientific/technological). It asks the reader to try to understand the viewpoint of essentially in-human beings, and an order to the universe that may not ideally include people. Tough stuff, but utterly fascinating and grandly entertaining to those that have a dark, philosophical bent. ( )
  Chamblyman | May 19, 2018 |
it was billed as funny & satirical but I didn't really pick this up. book 1 Bro was almost completely rapturously religious; book 2 improved to include some "contemporary" action; and cynicism; but overall I was disappointed ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
I planned to finish this book, but it didn't happen. The idea is very interesting, a man discovers a shard of ice from the meteor that struck Siberia in the early 20th century and uses it to violently spiritually awaken others around the world. But the author seems very interested in details. So much so, that the story seems to take a back seat at times. I'd love to find out how the story plays out, but maybe I'll watch the movie if one's ever made - and if it's not an epic 6-hour trilogy about the amazing properties of ice. ( )
  sbloom42 | May 21, 2014 |
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Gambrell, JameyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?

Job 38:29
And so, bretheren, let us lay aside works of darkness,
and turn to works of the light.

Saint Gregory Palamas,
Bishop of Thessaloniki (1296-1359)
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Book description
Ice-which recounted the escapades of a group of blond, blueeyed homicidal fanatics, the so-called Brotherhood of Light, who consider themselves the chosen people and the rest of humanity so many expendable "meat machines"-was a gritty, blistering tale of contemporary Moscow at its most unhinged and violent.

Written from the point of view of the sect, Ice now appears as the central panel of Vladimir Sorokin's enormously ambitious and riveting Ice Trilogy. Bro, the first section of Sorokin's chef d'oeuvre, relates the mysterious emergence of the brotherhood in the aftermath of a massive meteorite striking Siberia (a historical occurrence known as the Tungus event). The story of the group's development then unfolds at the leisurely pace and with the vivid detail of a great nineteenth-century Russian novel. 23,000 brings the trilogy to a wildly suspenseful close. All 23,000 members of the brotherhood have at last been brought together and they are preparing to stage the global destruction that will return them to their origins in pure light. Will their vision of innocence redeemed at last succeed?

A modern myth and a myth of the modern, Ice Trilogy is a virtuosic performance by one of Russia's boldest writers. Sorokin demonstrates the raw power of fiction to make and unmake worlds, not to mention the threatening unrealities that underlieu our grasp on reality. Could it be, we come to wonder, that the Brotherhood of Light is, finally, nothing less than the image of humanity, of us? [Amazon.co.uk]
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