cover image Ice


Vladimir Sorokin, , trans. from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell. . New York Review Books, $23.95 (321pp) ISBN 978-1-59017-195-0

Blond, blue-eyed contemporary Muscovites are being kidnapped, driven to remote areas and bashed in the chest with hammers that have iceblock heads; the victims are being "cracked" by their assailants, who want to free their hearts to "speak"—literally. The "empties" (those whose hearts are silent) are left to die; the others (whose hearts spontaneously utter a word or two in the 23-word "heart language") are recognized by their assailants as fellow "heart speakers." Over the course of this bizarrely beautiful novel, three "heart-speakers" —Lapin, Nikolaeva and Borenboim—are instructed by Khram, the mentor of Russia's heart speakers, in the tenets of their new life, in which they love one another and hammer humans to achieve the apocalypse. Khram herself was "hammered" by a German S.S. officer in a WWII slave labor camp, and in a long flashback, she returns to Stalin's Russia to secure the Siberian ice needed for hammering and to exploit the gulag for heart speakers through mass murder. In stripped down, poker-faced prose, Sorokin registers a world in which the inhumanity of man to man is exploited by a murderous emerging race who are, by contrast, in sweet mutual harmony with one another. This is a Master and Margarita for the age of Buffy the Vampire Slayer . (Jan.)