Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Ice Shirt (the seven dreams), by William T. Vollman: Book Review

Every so often, I'll browse Amazon books and read reviews - a couple of years ago I read the reviews on this book and decided to give it a go.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 4.

For a book as complex as this, I was surprised I actually go through it. But I am glad I did, though its complex, it threads through time to make an impressive tapestry from Viking conquests to their settlement in Greenland and the New Americas. This is also intermingled with the Author's present time experience in Greenland.

At the beginning you see the world through the eyes pre-vikings norsemen, whose magical 'Shirt' allows them to shapeshift and do other supernatural things - the basis of the Books title. It weaves not only through their successive heirs and magic, but also their battles amongst the inuit and themselves. The characters are complex but immensively intriguing. The book is told from an omniscient point of view - from the views of the Vikings themselves, the aboriginal peoples and from time to time - the author during his travels to Greenland.

The prose can be mythic at times, he is portion of his text from an Inuit tribesman who wants to accheive immortality:

"I don't ever want to die", the fourth man wept. His tears fell into the kettle; he was still eating and eating desperately, because he could not exhaust KLUSKAP's measure. "Please, Great Chief, grant me eternal life, or if you can't do that at least let me live as long as possible. "

KLUSKAP raised His eyebrows; He puffed at His pipe. "Well, grandson, you've ask a tricky thing," He said. "I'll see what I can do for you."

The next day He gave each of of the first three men a little box from His medicine bag...

As for the fourth man, KLUSKAP led him in the high, dry hills. He raised him up; He twisted him into the ground; He conjured above the man's head and became an ugly old cedar tree. - "Nobody will bother you here," said KLUSKAP, glitter eyed. "I think you will live a very long time." - The tree twisted its branches in supplication; it lashed at its branches in horror, but KLUSKAP was already gone.

A man's robe hung in tatters on that tree for many long years, eaten by vermin, pecked by birds, until a last great storm blew it away and then the tree stood truly naked, creaking and shivering and growing older and older and older...


This book may not be an easy read, but its definitely a worthwhile read. I typically don't like to read historical novels, but artistic style and stream of consciousness writing makes this book very interesting. For those who are interested in Viking thought and tradition, the author knows his stuff. Also to make the book easier to digest, there is a glossary and timeline in the back of the book to help put things in perspective.

In short, I recommend this book.



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