Monday, November 22, 2010
The Ice Road
There is not a warm enough climate on the face of the Earth for you to read The Ice Road in my Friend.
Leningrad is in the grip of winter. Winter with a capitol W. In The Ice Road, by Gillain Slovo it is always winter. The winter of 1933 brings more than the usual grumblings about food and fuel shortages, politics in whats left of the revolution's aftermath and what your neighbor might possibly be up to. When the city's feared and respected leader, Kirov is assassinated, the already vicious and corrupt Stalin government spins out of control. Over the course of the next ten years, perpetual outsider Irina views this, a disastrous expedition to the Arctic and then still more winter, the Siege of Leningrad. She also watches the fate of the Aleksandrovich family. Upper middle class and as safe as anyone can be in this Russia the Aleksandrovich family and their friends have little choice but to do anything to survive.
Slovo's mastery of these historical events is striking. She has recreated a world where the weight of the cold is a feather compared to that of the oppressive government. The heartfelt rendering of the lives of the ordinary people that she constructs makes this novel powerful and harrowing. The everyday minutia of life, the struggle to survive in so inhospitable a season and regime is perfectly captured. Irina is a wonderfully fearsome character. It is her forceful voice in The Ice Road that Slovo uses most effectively to move through the lost souls of idealism to the brutal power grabbing kingpins who finally inherited the revolution.