A majestic fictional evocation of the Norse arrival in the New World, from the National Book Award-winning author of Europe Central
The time is the tenth century A.D. The newcomers are a proud and bloody-minded people whose kings once changed themselves into wolves. The Norse have advanced as implacably as a glacier from Iceland to the wastes of Greenland and from there to the place they call "Vinland the Good." The natives are a bronze-skinned race who have not yet discovered iron and still see themselves as part of nature.
As William T. Vollmann tells the converging stories of these two peoplesand of the Norsewomen Freydis and Gudrid, whose venomous rivalry brings frost into paradisehe creates a tour-de-force of speculative history, a vivid amalgam of Icelandic saga, Inuit creation myth, and contemporary travel writing that yields a new an utterly original vision of our continent and its past.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Series:||Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes Series , #1|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
William T. Vollmann is the author of ten novels, including Europe Central, which won the National Book Award. He has also written four collections of stories, including The Atlas, which won the PEN Center USA West Award for Fiction, a memoir, and six works of nonfiction, including Rising Up and Rising Down and Imperial, both of which were finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His journalism and fiction have been published in The New Yorker, Harpers, Esquire, Granta, and many other publications.
Date of Birth:July 28, 1959
Place of Birth:Santa Monica, California
Education:Attended Deep Springs College and Cornell University
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a strange and difficult book. A liberal retelling of the Vinland Sagas, you won't find a happy ending here. Primarily concerned with Gudrid and Freydis, the daughters of Eirik the Red who colonized North American circa 1000 CE. Gudrid is spiritually symbolic of the change from Norse paganism to Christianity. Though she believes in her Christ, she can't fully shed the supernatural powers imparted to her as a child by her pagan godmother. Freydis, ostracized for being a bastard, fully embraces the old gods, some even older than the Norse ones. She gives her soul to the ice demon that rules the glacier on Gunnbjorn Fjeld, the highest peak in Greenland. She gains powers only associated with semi-mythical kings. The demon gives Freydis the responsibility of bringing the frost to Vinland. It's a tale of ice, lichen, murder and demonology. And we shouldn't forget the wolf hearts.Despite all this fanciful imagining, Vollmann attempts to remain as historically accurate as possible given the contradictions of both the literary sources and the archaeological evidence. The historical narrative is inter-cut with accounts of Vollmann's bohemian travels across Greenland in the late 1980s. This technique doesn't always work. He's trying to tell how we got from there (200 CE) to here (1990 CE). His contemporary accounts are superfluous because his literary metaphors work just fine in getting his point across. Or maybe not his metaphors, maybe just the historical record gets his point across: the arrival the Europeans ushered in an ice age that would change North American culture forever. The text itself is work of art being interspersed with the author's ink drawings. Significant front and end matter render the text near ergodic. Vollmann is clearly enjoying himself creating a kind of adolescent Viking notebook inflated to personal reference text extraordinaire. I think The Ice-Shirt must have inspired The Voyage of the Short Serpent by Bernard du Boucheron, a far more controlled tale of the final Norse colony in Greenland. Short Serpent is another frost-axe-nightmare kind of book. Though not for everyone, I recommend both to anyone unafraid to get mangled into the bowels of history by the churning wheel of time.
Ice-Shirt is a highly original blend of historical fiction and myth with snippets of the author's travel experiences. I primarily enjoyed learning about the Viking way of life and the places they explored (Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland). The mythological components, while interesting, were hard to follow and became tedious after a while. The glossaries at the back and the maps are not as complete and helpful as they could have been. I think the book left a long-lasting impression on me but I can't say it was an entirely enjoyable read b/c it was just so dark and bloody. The writing style was clever and original though so I give it 3.5 instead of just 3 stars.
This is a difficult book to sum up quickly and easily. Vollmann changes styles and viewpoint in many places, tailoring each to particular sections of the book. We begin in the realm of magic gleaned from Norse mythology and the sagas. Men can transform themselves into animals, kings rise and fall amid bloody treachery, and Vollmann leads us from mythic past to historical fact, building to the founding of the medieval Norse kingdoms, and their expansion of empire into the British Isles, Iceland, Greenland and eventually Vinland. Filled with some of the most intricate, detailed and evocative prose I have ever encountered, this is a challenging, but amazing book. Rarely do my love of history, and of magical realism find a home together, particularly in a book of such epic reach and skill. Best savored in the depths of winter nights, with plenty of tea...