Sorokin and Ice

Vladimir Sorokin, Ice

Vladimir Sorokin (born in 1955) is one of the most popular authors in Russia today. Born near Moscow, he studied at the Gubkin Oil and Gas Institute and graduated as an engineer in 1977. His first cultural achievements were as a book illustrator, and he was well situated in the late Soviet artistic underground. His first novel was published intamizdat in Paris in 1985, and several stories appeared in a Paris émigré journal the same year: his works were banned in the Soviet Union. By the early 1990s, though, his work was being published in Russia, read and discussed, nominated for prizes - and, often, protested by readers or officials who considered it pornographic. He continues to write stories, novels, and plays, adn he has had success with several film scripts.

Sorokin's 1999 novel Blue Lard (or Blue Bacon Fat, Голубое сало), caused a particular scandal. The book imagines that the greatest figures of Russian literature are distinguished by having blue fat (like blue blood?), and it depicts sacred cows such as Anna Akhmatova as foul-mouthed, sexually depraved, and abusive of various substances. Of course, this kind of challenge to cultural icons made the book sell very well indeed. Sorokin has been translated into lots of foreign languages and will be speaking in New York City next week (Sunday, May 1, 2011) as part of the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature.

Ice (Лед) was first published in 2002. Our 2007 translation is by Jamey Gambrell, an admirable translator of contemporary literature who has translated such stylistically challenging and important writers as Tatiana Tolstaya (grand-daughter of the very Alexei N. Tolstoy who wrote Aèlita). Given the topic through which we are approaching Sorokin, you might be especially interested in his 2006 novel Day of the Oprichnik (День опричника), which came out earlier this year in a translation by Jamey Gambrell. The word "Oprichnik" resonates for a Russian with the authoritarian abuses of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, and indeed, the book depicts a not-too-distant future dystopia in Russia complete with a Tsar back in power.

Questions for reading:

  1. The amount of profanity in the mpuths of these characters, while arguably realistic, really stands out against the background of the works we have read. How does it impact your experience as a reader, if at all?
  2. How much other post-modern science fiction have you read? How does post-modern style and plot construction fit the genre?
  3. Compared to other works we have read this spring, how does World War II appear in this one?
  4. What kind of light does this "secret society" of blond and blue-eyed aliens cast on Nazi racism or Soviet secret police?
  5. How do elements of Gnosticism fit into the premise of this novel?
  6. How do the disparate sections work together - especially the briefest, very last one?