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Ice Road by Gillian Slovo

Ice Road (2004)

by Gillian Slovo

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
This one was an OK summer read but I kept feeling let down by it, as if it had promise but never quite lived up to it, neither with respect to well-developed interesting characters nor in terms of what was happening to them. ( )
  mari_reads | Oct 18, 2015 |
A tale of intertwining stories set in Leningrad of the 1930s and 1940s. While the siege of Leningrad is significant in the later part of the novel, much of the story concerns the Stalinist purges of the 1930s and their repercussions on the lives of the characters. Very good reading, recommended for anyone interested in Soviet Russia. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Jul 12, 2014 |
Although I liked a lot about this book (which I first heard about here on LT), I found it disappointing. Only in the last few pages about the ice road across Lake Ladoga that relieved the siege of Leningrad (despite the title and the blurb on the back on my copy), the novel covers a group of interconnected people in Leningrad from the early years of the Soviet Union until the second world war, and particularly focuses on the time of Stalin's murderous purges in the late 30s. Slovo is ambitious, and tries to portray the feelings of people who believed in the goals of the Russian revolution, if not always in its methods, and who tried to further those goals even while making compromises with their own values and feelings. I admire her for trying to do this, even though I didn't find it entirely convincing. She does a good job of interweaving the different stories and creates some potentially interesting characters.

There are several reasons why I was disappointed in this book. Perhaps, the biggest one is that I have read a fair number of novels and nonfiction about this same time period, and this felt light weight compared to them. I am thinking here of writers like Vassily Grossman, Victor Serge, and Andrey Platonov, as well as books like Doctor Zhivago and Helen Dunmore's The Siege. Additionally, I never warmed up to most of the characters because they never seemed completely fully formed as characters and at times seemed like they were there to fill a role. And I got tired of their endless thinking and worrying, especially since very different characters seemed to express themselves with the same type of language, although expressing different thoughts. (For example, one character, who started out illiterate, keeps talking about how uneducated she is but expresses herself just like more educated characters.) Also, although I admire Slovo's historical research, at times it was a little heavy-handed; as a reader, I felt she was trying to make sure she mentioned the real historical facts a little too often. Finally, I thought the book was too long; I think it would have been more powerful if Slovo had condensed it.

I didn't hate this book but I had higher expectations than it was able to fulfill.
7 vote rebeccanyc | Apr 26, 2011 |
This is a pretty bad book; it's hard to believe Pat Barker meant the lavish praise quoted on the back cover. It's basically a romance novel set against the backdrop of a diligently researched Stalinist Russia, with obligatory markings of the various assassinations, show trials, and other newsworthy events; the main action, however, is the endless self-questionings and absurd actions of the main characters, not one of whom I found the least believable. And the repetitions! Slovo says nothing once if she can say it six times, with a bunch of rewordings thrown in. Or, as she might put it:

"He read on in disbelief. She said it again. She said the same thing yet again. Now in slightly different words, but it was unmistakably the same thing. Or perhaps he was dreaming it? He seemed to be dreaming a lot these days. But no, this was reality, and she was repeating herself in reality. Was she being paid by the word? Useless to think such things. He could not tear himself away; he kept reading, hoping for something better. But there was never anything better. Just the repeating, the endless repeating..."

Also, as in most books about Russia by non-Russians, there are a lot of mistakes (e.g., the daughter of Demyan is called "Demyanovichna"). It won't bother most people, of course, but it bothers me. ( )
  languagehat | Mar 26, 2011 |
Gillian Slovo opens her novel Ice Road (2004) with a chapter on the story of the Chelyuskin expedition in the early 1930s, an attempt by the Soviet Union to open up a one-season navigation from European north to the Far East via the Arctic. The expedition ends in disaster, but the international rescue effort was made into a huge propaganda success for the Soviet Union. Slovo mentions a little-known theory that the expedition was doomed from the beginning.
The episode introduces the main character in the novel, an uneducated cleaner-cook Irina Davydovna, who survives the Chelyuskin disaster, the purges and, finally, the siege of Leningrad, which is described towards the end of the book.

I think Ice Road has been unfairly overshadowed by Helen Dunmore's The Siege. While stylistically Helen Dunmore may be stronger than Slovo, psychologically characters in Ice Road are treated deeper than in The Siege. Slovo captured the ordinary life and the paranoia of the thirties in Russia in a more striking manner than it comes through in Dunmore's book.

Read the full review on Tetradki:

http://russianbooks.blogspot.com/2011/03/two-leningrad-novels-by-english-writers... ( )
  Sashura | Mar 16, 2011 |
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Rutten, KathleenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393327205, Paperback)

"A gripping story of courage, disillusionment, survival, and the triumph of the human spirit."—Sarah Durant, author of The Birth of Venus

Loyalties, beliefs, love, family ties: all are tested to the limit in one of the most devastating moments of human history: the siege of Leningrad during World War II. Boris Aleksandrovich, a well-meaning bureaucrat, thinks he can negotiate between idealism and politics. His daughter, Natasha, learns otherwise when, as a young woman in love, she is almost crushed by her father's compromises. Watching all this unfold is Irina. Wise, ironic, marvelous Irina, whom Boris had persuaded to go on an ill-fated voyage to the Arctic Circle, where she barely survived. When she arrives back in Leningrad, he feels honor bound to find her a position within his family circle. Irina comes to understand how love for another may, in the end, be more powerful and more profound than blind loyalty to an idea. Exciting and heroic, peopled with wonderfully complex characters, Ice Road is a masterpiece. A finalist for the Orange Prize.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:39 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Leningrad, 1933. Loyalties, beliefs, love: all are about to be tested to the limit in one of the most crushing moments the world will ever know. Watching everything is Irina, who understands that simple loyalty to an individual may well be more powerful than blind loyalty to an idea.… (more)

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