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Ice Road: A Novel

A book by Gillian Slovo

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"...and all the world is buried deep."

  • Mar 28, 2005
In 1934, Irina Davydovna is sent on a fated Artic expedition, along the coast of Siberia and back. Trapped in the Arctic ice with her shipmates, the author perfectly captures Irina's sense of isolation, the eerie crackling sound of the ice floes pressing against the ship and the helplessness of their predicament in this frozen, indifferent world: "I have grown heavy with hope and with belief. I have dared to dream." In an enormous rescue effort, most of the crew is saved, including Irina, although the ship is lost to the depths of the ocean.

Later, Irina finds employment in the household of Anton Antonovich Abramov, once a close friend of Boris Aleksandrovich, and his adopted daughter. Although the orphan child, Anya, never warms to her more welcoming circumstances, Irina is content to have a place in the home of a respected man after the terrifying, near-fatal experience in the Arctic. Irina watches the metamorphosis of her nation, a woman given to obedience and respect for those in power. But these are dangerous times, neighbor spying on neighbor as those of questionable motives join the ranks of the disappeared.

The vital Natasha, daughter of Boris Aleksandrovich Ivanov, is in love with Kolya and eager for marriage. Natasha is in the bloom of youth, beautiful and covertly watched by many male admirers, her father's favorite child. The couple is married and has a child, Katya, when Kolya is arrested.

Natasha is bereft when Kolya is arrested, her life now precarious, a social outcast. Natasha marries the jealous, uninspired Dmitry Fedorovich, the epitome of an inflexible Stalinist regime, her one opportunity to secure her future and that of her daughter. Desperately unhappy, Natasha is riddled with questions about Kolya's fate, but fearful of her husband's power. In her distress, Natasha turns to her friend Irina, living alone with Anya since Anton's untimely death.

As Russia hurtles towards its date with destiny, the Germans mass on the Russian border. Leningrad prepares for a devastating siege and soldiers desperately dig trenches to protect the city from assault. Hitler is eager to subdue this massive country, while a flustered bureaucracy is decimated by those who flee from the city. The great experiment is in turmoil, under attack and unprepared, without provisions in a brutal winter.

With uncanny insight, Slovo defines society through the eyes of the women in this vast, white world where ideas are as rigid as the ice-covered terrain, proving there is room for passion, love and tenderness. It is the women who reflect the true changes in society, showing astonishing emotional growth, made stronger by their trials, losing the passive obedience of long habit. In spite of personal danger, Irina and Natasha form a bond that sustains them where others, fathers, husbands, have failed. Slovo's characters are surrounded by peril, betrayal and intrigue, but when survival is at stake, the women breathe life into the future, buoyed by loyalty and compassion. Luan Gaines/ 2005.

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More Ice Road: A Novel reviews
review by . October 17, 2010
  "Ice Road" tells the story of two Russian women from very different circumstances but whose lives contrive to become linked under "Stalin's Terrors". Set in Leningrad, the story covers the period from 1933 until the siege of Leningrad during the war Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War (the Second World War as it is known outside of the USSR). Irina Davydovna's life is changed irrevocably when she is offered the opportunity to work on the Chelyuskin, …
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Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #108
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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South African novelist and playwright Slovo--Red Dust(2001)--delivers a chilling historical novel about a group of Soviets living in Leningrad between the world wars. The tale opens with the observations of Irina Davydovna, a simple cleaning woman who survived the sinking of theChelyuskin(an actual research ship that became ice-bound on its way to the Arctic in 1933). Irina delivers devastating descriptions of the Soviet Union--Stalin's military purges, the murder of Leningrad Chief Sergei Mironovich Kirov, the desperation of citizens in the clutches of an oppressive political regime. The novel loses steam when it switches to third-person narrative, highlighting the precarious personalities that populate Irina's life. Among them: her employer Boris Alexsandrovich, a government official torn between loyalty to his family and loyalty to the state; moody intellectual Anton Antonovich; and a fearless orphan named Anya. While Slovo's narrative may be uneven, her prose is luminous, evoking a landscape as cold and deadly as an ice pick to the heart.Allison Block
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ISBN-10: 0393327205
ISBN-13: 978-0393327205
Author: Gillian Slovo
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
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