The year is 1973. An Egyptian historian, Shukri, pursues a year of non-degree graduate studies in Moscow, the presumed heart of the socialist utopia. Through his eyes, the reader receives a guided tour of the sordid stagnation of Brezhnev-era Soviet life: intra-Soviet ethnic tensions; Russian retirees unable to afford a tin of meat; a trio of drunks splitting a bottle of vodka on the sidewalk; a Kirgiz roommate who brings his Russian girlfriend to live in his four-person dormitory room; black-marketeering Arab embassy officials; liberated but insecure Russian women; and Arab students’ debates about the geographically distant October 1973 War. Shukri records all this in the same numbly factual style familiar to fans of Sonallah Ibrahim’s That Smell, punctuating it with the only redeeming sources of beauty available: classical music LPs, newly acquired Russian vocabulary, achingly beautiful women, and strong Georgian tea.
Based on Ibrahim’s own experience studying at the All-Russian Institute of Cinematography in Moscow from 1971 to 1973, Ice offers a powerful exploration of Arab confusion, Soviet dysfunction, and the fragility of leftist revolutionary ideals.
‘Ice [. . .] takes a scalpel to the “fantastic dream” of communism through the eagle eyes of a wry Egyptian narrator who has come to study in Russia. [. . .] Quietly circles around the “fantastic dream” until it has been picked clean, like a carcass.’ —World Litearture Today [Read the full review]
‘Since the appearance—such as it was—of his debut 1966 novella, the Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim has been one of the most intriguing and important figures in contemporary Arabic literature [. . .] Ice is a curious missive from a partly real, partly imagined past to a generation awakening to hope and upheaval—as well as the possibility of dashed illusions.’ —4Columns [Read the full review]
‘Margaret Litvin’s deft translation of Ice, which originally appeared in 2011 after being written the year before [. . .] Ibrahim’s style, though, resembles nothing so much as that of slow cinema as it stitches together an array of episodes that never yield to the exigencies of a plot and instead offer us the subtle intricacies of life in the USSR.’ —Asymptote
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