The Ice-Shirt

( 1 )


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 peoples-and of the...

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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 peoples-and of the Norsewomen Freydis and Gudrid, whose venomous rivalry brings frost into paradise-he 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Continuing with the theme of oppression addressed in You Bright and Risen Angels and The Rainbow Stories , this first of seven projected novels on the exploitation of North America focuses on the Scandinavians. Freely augmenting and interpreting the sagas, Vollmann creates a past of treachery and bellicosity extending from 200 C.E. to the transoceanic adventures of Eirik the Red and his family at the turn of the millennium. Motivated alternately by an outlaw spirit and greed, the family moves west to Iceland, Greenland and eventually to Vinland (America). Once there, they proceed to cheat the native Skraelings while Freydis Eiriksdottir seeks to clothe the dulcet country in a frosty ``Ice-Shirt''--for no other reason than that she, like the rest of her kind, has an icy heart. (In the voluminous notes and glossaries appended to the novel, Vollman notes that the Micmac term jenuaq refers to the Northmen, people who have never thawed out because they don't drink enough blubber.) Despite felicitous writing throughout--from Cuppy-esque historical humor to a Nordic magic realism--one gets Vollmann's point early on, making the insistent implications of evil Northmen/noble Native a bit pat. One could only wish that the subtlety of language was matched by the subtlety of plot. (Oct.)
Library Journal
This hefty illustrated novel, the first installment of a seven-volume ``symbolic history'' of North America, is an imaginative retelling of the Norse discovery of Vinland, with the accent on ``imaginative.'' The scholarship is impeccable--the book is packed with glossaries, chronologies, and bibliographies--but Vollmann takes liberties with his sources in order to ``further a deeper sense of truth.'' For insight into shape-changing he interviews a couple of San Francisco transvestites; other informants include Inuit teens, Scandinavian backpackers, and alcoholics Vollmann meets on the bus. The technique has more in common with New Journalism than with history or fiction. Utterly different in subject matter from Vollmann's previous books-- You Bright and Risen Angels ( LJ 5/15/87) and The Rainbow Stories ( LJ 6/15/89)-- The Ice-Shirt nevertheless resembles them in scope and degree of difficulty. Highly recommended.-- Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140131963
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/28/1993
  • Series: Seven Dreams Series , #1
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 698,136
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

William T. Vollmann

William T. Vollmann is the author of eight novels, three collections of stories, a memoir, and Rising Up and Rising Down, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction. Vollman's writing has been published in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Paris Review, Esquire, Conjunctions, Granta, and many other magazines. He lives in California.


Fearless, ambitious, and wildly original, William T. Vollmann has been lionized as one of the most significant and influential voices in contemporary postmodernist literature. His dauntingly voluminous books, a hodgepodge of fiction and journalism, are marked by bold, often beautiful language. They also spring from personal experience: Volmann is famous for total immersion in his subjects. His research has taken him to the ends of the earth – to the North Pole, to war zones around the globe, and (perhaps most famously) to San Francisco's notorious Tenderloin district to gain a better understanding of its notorious denizens..

Vollmann roared onto the literary scene in 1987 with You Bright and Risen Angels, a bold and quirky debut novel that chronicled in allegorical fashion the bitter battle between insects and the inventors of electricity. From that point on, his books became less surreal and more gritty. In 1992, he wrote his first "official" work of nonfiction, An Afghanistan Picture Show , an impressionistic chronicle of his experiences among the Afghan rebels in the early 1980s. Since then, the prolific author has produced an unstoppable juggernaut of prose, most notably installments in his towering fictional sequence Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes and a labyrinthine seven-volume treatise on violence called Rising Up, Rising Down. Published by the iconoclastic publishing house McSweeney's in 2003, this magnum opus was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction.

In 1999, The New Yorker named Vollmann one of the 20 best American writers under the age of 40. In 2005, he was awarded the National Book Award for Fiction for Europe Central, a 750-page series of linked stories set in Germany and Russia during World War II. His journalism continues to appear in such magazines as Esquire, Spin, Gear, Outside, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, and The New Yorker. In addition, he has founded the Co-Tangent Press as a vehicle for publishing his own limited edition art books.

Good To Know

Vollmann wrote his first novel, You Bright and Risen Angels, while working as a computer programmer.

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    1. Also Known As:
      m the Blind, Captain Subzero
    2. Hometown:
      Sacramento, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 28, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Santa Monica, California
    1. Education:
      Attended Deep Springs College and Cornell University

Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 12, 2009

    An epic novel of the Norse migration to America, and their downfall...

    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...

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