The Terrors of Ice and Darkness by Christoph Ransmayr
Novels with explicitly novelistic themes are often bloodless, carrying the fatal odor of the sheltered writing workshop; Austrian writer Ransmayr's first novel, however, is a stunning exception.
The underlying concerns of this work are primarily literary--creator vs. creation, history vs. fiction, the nature of metaphor, etc.--but here they inform a singularly gripping tale. A nameless and largely invisible narrator recounts the Protected content of one Josef Mazzini, whose fascination with a 19th-century polar expedition has pulled him north, to the furthest arctic settlements. Accounts of the two journeys intersect and diverge, challenging the notion of history as linear, seducing the reader with startlingly detailed descriptions of polar exploration. Members of the 19th-century expedition, pursuing honor, glory and other vanities, endure two frigid winters when their ship is trapped in ice: their beards freeze, they are blinded by snow and ill with scurvy, but the Bible is read every Sunday. A century later men approach the icy expanse with snowmobiles and Walkmen, undertaking selfinterested scientific projects. This aggressively intelligent narrative transforms the polar regions into unusually fertile ground.
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