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The Great Glass Sea

The Great Glass Sea

5.0 1
by Josh Weil

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From celebrated storyteller Josh Weil comes a sui generis epic swathed in all the magic of Russian folklore and set against the dystopian backdrop of an all too real alternate present.

Twins Yarik and Dima have been inseparable since childhood. Living on their uncle’s farm after the death of their father, the boys once spent their days helping


From celebrated storyteller Josh Weil comes a sui generis epic swathed in all the magic of Russian folklore and set against the dystopian backdrop of an all too real alternate present.

Twins Yarik and Dima have been inseparable since childhood. Living on their uncle’s farm after the death of their father, the boys once spent their days helping farmers in fields, their nights spellbound by their uncle’s tales. Years later, they labor together at the Oranzheria, a sea of glass erected over acres of cropland and lit by space mirrors that ensnare the denizens of Petroplavilsk in perpetual daylight. Now the twins have only work in common—stalwart Yarik married with children, oppressed by the burden of responsibility; dreamer Dima living alone with his mother, wistfully planning the brothers’ return to their uncle’s land.

But an encounter with the Oranzerhia’s billionaire owner changes their lives forever and soon both men find themselves poster boys for opposing ideologies that threaten to destroy not only the lives of those they love but the love that has bonded them since birth.

A breathtakingly ambitious novel of love, loss, and light, set amid a bold vision of an alternative present-day Russia.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Lara Vapnyar
…fascinating…Weil isn't trying to capture a Russia grounded in reality. Actually, he's not trying to capture Russia at all. If anything, the novel's corporate world comes closer to the contemporary United States, with its obsession with productivity and efficiency and its belief in the power of advertising…The Great Glass Sea is not an alternative history, then, but a fantastical vision inspired by bits and pieces of Russian language, history and culture. It is beautifully baffled by the mysterious Russian soul.
Publishers Weekly
Twin brothers find themselves on opposite sides of an ideological divide in this ambitious debut novel from the author of the novella collection The New Valley. Yarik and Dima grew up together in Russia, thick as thieves. As adults, they work at the Oranzheria, a massive greenhouse in the town of Petroplavilsk, which is bathed in perpetual daylight by space mirrors. Under the mirrors, the town becomes ceaselessly productive, a place where “sleep was freed from nature’s hours, breakfast was what happened before work,” and “stores never closed.” Longing for more time with his brother, Dima becomes increasingly disenchanted with this new, overly productive society, while an encounter between Yarik and Russian billionaire Boris Bazarov—the oligarch behind the Oranzheria—leads to the Yarik’s ascension through the ranks. A well-timed dystopian tale, the novel beautifully details both the politics of this hypothetical Russia—“oligarchs bred beneath the clamp of communism let loose upon loot-fueled dreams”—and its impact on one small family. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (July)
From the Publisher

Winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, The Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction, and the GrubStreet National Book Prize

Shortlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize

A New York Times Editor’s Choice

A featured LA Times "Summer Book", A Bustle “Best Book for July”, One of Flavorwire’s "10 Must Read Books for July"

“[A] fascinating debut novel… The Great Glass Sea is not an alternative history, …but a fantastical vision inspired by bits and pieces of Russian language history, and culture. It is beautifully baffled by the mysterious Russian soul.”—New York Times Book Review

"Josh Weil’s The Great Glass Sea is the most unexpected second book by a writer of note to appear in years….A grand fable…an absorbing and touching tale...Few young writers appreciate landscape, the way it shapes and diminishes people who live off it, quite like Weil...an engrossing story of brotherly division."—John Freeman,Boston Globe

"With his brilliant new novel, The Great Glass Sea, Weil maintains this balance beautifully over 474 pages, sweeping the reader along with careful characterization and exuberant language...the book has the heartbeat of a fable, and plays out in the rhythms of a story told for generations. The resultant feeling is that of being on someone’s knee while hearing this magnificent tale."—James Scott, The Rumpus.com

"Weil’s highly original drama unfolds in a fittingly unique setting…The Great Glass Sea showcases a dystopian society on a grand scale. An ambitious and richly imagined debut novel.”— Malcolm Forbes, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Moving and sensitive…evokes the mythic feel of a contemporary classic. There's pathos and tension…breathtaking brilliance. Weil's greatest gift to the reader: a deep understanding of family, personal loss and the abiding love between siblings.”—Jeff Vandermeer, Los Angeles Times

“Captivating. A kind of sweeping historical fable...superbly drawn.”—Kendal Weaver, Associated Press

"Weil conjures up image after image of great beauty and melancholy...some of them, like a lone figure skating atop the Oranzheria, have an indelible originality....The Great Glass Sea is a work of great ambition and imagination."—Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

“Vivid prose and soaring imagination…an inventive dystopian tale from a brilliant storyteller about a not-so-far-fetched alternate present, a tale about family and brotherhood that simultaneously brings to light poignant political and philosophical inquiries. It’s a stunningly imagined debut that will dazzle and mesmerize readers as they disappear into its visionary depths and resurface with a new and more profound understanding of fraternal love.”— Bustle, July 2014’s Best Books

“Close to 500 pages, Weil’s novel bends genres, uses Russian folklore, and gives you enough little philosophical nuggets to bite on to fill your July quota for strange, but totally engrossing novels.”— Flavorwire, "10 Must Read Books for July"

"When Weil’s prose and “Russian novel” connect with our contemporary anxieties about the future of labor and value, something magical happens.”—Austin American Statesman

"An ambitious and accomplished debut novel, one that reshapes the world even as it reflects our own reality back to us, now more brightly lit than ever before."—The Brooklyn Rail

“Thoughtful, elegiac…Weil couches this complex tale in prose that is lyrical, funny, sad, and often echoes folk-tale language. An audacious SF what-if…it will make you think and wonder. Sometimes it will make you laugh, and by the end, it will reward you.”—Fantasy Literature

“Lyrical prose pulls readers from each paragraph to the next, and is peppered with brilliant and dark imagery as well as colorful Russian folklore, making The Great Glass Sea a must-read for fans of literary fiction.”— Book Page

“Evocative of Russian classics…an ambitious analysis of the fallout of that one single moment, how the drive to work and amass impacts our happiness, and conversely how listlessness or a lack of ambition do the same…The Great Glass Sea is a joy to reflect on…Josh Weil proves himself a storyteller with the ability to deliver the kind of complex literature (with room for interpretation that lends itself to discussion and debate) in a time where fast, easy and digestible are far more common place."—Examiner

"If complex literary novels really are done for, Josh Weil must’ve missed the text message. His formidable “The Great Glass Sea” knits together strands of traditional Slavic folklore and futuristic speculative fiction to create a passionate reflection on technology and personal happiness. Spanning almost 500 pages, the novel poses mind-bending questions about politics, ecology and the ambivalent closeness of siblings...Weil pulls off dazzling strokes of storytelling...His distinctive voice obliges readers to slow down and swish certain passages around before swallowing...Pushing the envelope on literary artistry even further, each chapter begins with a pen-and-ink illustration by the author...A genre-bending epic steeped in archetypal stories, “The Great Glass Sea,” rises above the usual Cain-and-Abel formula by way of sensitive, resourceful craftsmanship."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"A genuinely fascinating novel—for its inventiveness, its passionate breadth and vision."—Richard Ford

“Josh Weil writes away from all the official channels, and yet he writes about exactly where we are now. His vision is sustained by proper instinct and intelligent observation. He is certainly among the most gifted writers of his generation.” — Colum McCann

The Great Glass Sea is our world made uncanny: the Russian countryside of folktale and literature turned darkly luminous, menacing, and brittle. I was intoxicated by this novel's brains and I fell hopelessly in love with its heart. Josh Weil is a spectacular talent."—Lauren Groff

“A marvelously strange parable, brought to earth by a nuanced and deeply felt portrait of fraternal love. If The New Valley didn't convince you, The Great Glass Sea will: Josh Weil is a storyteller of the first order."—Joshua Ferris

The Great Glass Sea imagines a Russia of the near-future that stands in for both the rest of the globe and the bonds between us as individuals: a world of both magical bounty and heartbreaking ephemerality. It’s about the urge to on the one hand conserve all we can while on the other to make of all we encounter a field of ceaseless yield, and it’s as sad and filled with wonder on its obsessive subject of brotherly love as any novel I’ve recently encountered.”— Jim Shepard

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-05-18
In a Russian city of the near future, twin brothers struggle with tradition, technology and the growing distance between them in this impressive debut novel.As boys, Yarik and Dima learn fishing from their father. After he drowns and their mother has a breakdown, they spend time on their uncle’s farm. Shared pain and rustic pleasures remain with the twins as the story jumps about 20 years and they work on building a huge greenhouse that girds their once-depressed industrial city of Petroplavilsk. It’s a project of a consortium in the new capitalist Russia that has also filled the sky with space mirrors to reflect the sun when it sets and provide perpetual daylight for crops grown under the “mammoth solarium.” Weil (The New Valley, 2009) has fairy-tale elements and a Pushkin romance weaving through a moderately futuristic setting. The different narrative types suit a conflict that pits high-pressure urban toil and avid consumerism against a “Past Life” of agrarian labor, customs and leisure. The prose also shifts markedly from harshly realisticto lyrical and sometimes poetic, as in this description of a winter’s fishing hole: “[a] lapping blackness in the lamplit ice.” The brothers’ gradual estrangement embodies the larger conflicts. Dima the dreamer, “listening to a woods whispering at the edge of a hayfield,” retreats from work, hoping to recover the uncle’s lost farm and becoming briefly a folk hero as he recites publicly from the Pushkin epic and appears in a video made by a group of anarchists who harvest psilocybin mushrooms. Yarik, with a family and ambition, gains promotions as he’s favored by the billionaire leading the consortium, eventually turning into an icon himself of the good life. The ending errs wisely on the side of realism, addressing the key conflicts without closing all the gaps or healing all the wounds.As broad as its themes are—touching on political, philosophical and historical divisions—Weil’s first novel is rooted in family and fine storytelling; it's an engaging, highly satisfying tale blessed by sensitivity and a gifted imagination.
Library Journal
Twin brothers Yarik and Dima spent their childhood at their uncle's countryside farm, helping in the fields and listening to his folktales at night. Years later, the brothers are grown, living in the city of Petroplavilsk. Vast glass panels form a ceiling, the Oranzheria, over the city, and night is replaced by mirrors floating like satellites in the sky, reflecting light. Yarik has a wife and children and is determined to make a good life for them at any cost. Dima, the nostalgic dreamer, lives with their mother and a rooster in her apartment. When Dima quits his job, causing social and political upheaval, and Yarik encounters the billionaire oligarch who controls Petroplavilsk, irrevocable change enters their lives. VERDICT After winning several literary awards for a trio of novellas titled The New Valley, Weil creates a tale of longing and sadness, threaded by Russian folklore and heavy with the weight of love, in his first novel. Facing 400 pages, the reader will trudge through some redundant detailing but will be rewarded by a deep emotional bond with the characters and immersion in a landscape and story line full of natural beauty, resplendent and incandescent. [See Prepub Alert, 1/10/14.]—Shannon Greene, Greenville Technical Coll. Lib., SC

Product Details

Grove Atlantic
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Always the island had been out there, so far out over so much choppy water, far beyond the last gray wave, the groaning ice when there was ice, the fog when there was fog, so distant in the middle of such a huge lake that, for their first nine years, Nizhi — that church made of its tens of thousands of wooden pegs, each one as small as a little boy’s finger bones; those woodshingled domes like tops upended to spin their points on the floor of the sky; the priests’ black robes snapping in the wind, their beards blowing with the clouds, their droning ceaseless as the shore-slap waves — all might have been just another fairy tale that Dyadya Avya told.
And then one day when the lake ice had broken and geese had come again, two brothers, twins, stole a little boat and rowed together out towards Nizhi…
“Into the lake,” Dima said.
“To hunt the Chudo-Yudo,” Yarik said.
“Until they found it.”
“And killed it.”
They were ten years old — Dimitryi Levovich Zhuvov and Yaroslav Levovich Zhuvov — and they had never been this far out in the lake, this lost, this on their own. Around them the water was wide as a second sky, darkening beneath the one above, the rowboat a moonsliver winking on the waves. In it, they sat side by side, hands buried in the pockets of their coats, leaning slightly into each other with each sway of the skiff.
“Or maybe it came up,” Dima said, “and crushed the boat.”
“And they drowned,” Yarik said.
“Or,” Dima said, “it ate them.”
They grinned, the same grin at the same time, as if one’s cheeks tugged the other’s lips.
“Or,” Yarik started.
And Dima finished, “They died.”
They went quiet.
The low slap of lakewater knocking the metal hull. The small sharp calls of jaegers: black specs swirling against a frostbitten sky. But no wood blades clacking at the rowboat’s side. No worn handles creaking in the locks. Hours ago, they had lost the oars.
Now they were losing last light. Their boat had drifted so far into Lake Otseva’s center that they could no longer make out the shore. But there was the island. All their lives it had been somewhere beyond the edge of sight, and now they watched it: far gray glimpse growing darker, as if the roots of its unknown woods were drawing night up from the earth. It humped blackly out of the distant water, unreachable as a whale’s back. And beyond it stretched the lake. And all around: the lake. And beneath them the rocking of its waves.
At their feet the tools they’d taken scraped back and forth against the skiff floor: axe, hatchet, cleaver, pick. Each one freshly sharpened. In the bow, behind their backs: a brush hook’s moon-bright blade swayed against the sky. Beneath it, a cloud of netting. And, nestled there to keep from breaking, wrapped in wool blankets to warm the life in them: two dozen eggs, a gestating nestful of yolky souls. Out of the stern, the fishing rod jutted, its line lipped by the waves — tugged and slacked, tugged and slacked — going down down down into the black belly of the lake where its huge hook hung, gripping in its barb the red fist of a fresh goose heart.
Way out over the water, far beyond the island, the edge of the lake met the end of the world and there the sky was a thin red line drawn by a bead of blood. Then it was just a line. Then the line was gone, and there was just the darkness of the earth meeting the darkness of the sky and the boys rose unsteadily on the unsteady boat and crouched atop the netting, unfolding the blankets from the eggs. Dima unscrewed the tops from the canning jars. Yarik cracked the shells against their rims. One by one he slid in each yolk on its slick of albumen. One by one Dima closed the tops again. When they had all the eggs in all the jars, they tied threads around the glass necks. Each thread they tied to an oarlock or a hole punched through the gunwale or a ring at the prow, the two brothers crawling around the boat, reaching over its edge, letting go the jars. At the ends of their strings they floated, the glass gleaming, the eggs like a lakeful of eyes.
“How many heads do you think it has?” Dima said.
It had become more night than dusk, and there was no moon, no way to see the fishing line. But they watched the rod.
“At least six,” Yarik said.
“Probably twelve,” Dima said.
Yarik told him, “Twenty four.”
Dima said, “I want the axe.”
Reaching down, he found it, and — arms thin as the handle, shoulders straining — lifted. Beside him, in Yarik’s small boy’s hands, their old uncle’s pistol seemed huge. They sat huddled together, cold and silent and knowing the other was scared: the line would snap tight; the boat would jerk; the weight would suck down the stern; the water would wolf their feet; the thing’s two dozen heads would roar up around the boat, one set of jaws mouthing blood and metal, the other twenty-three agape, their tongues, their teeth.
“What if he doesn’t come?” Dima said.
That was when the rod bent. They watched it arc, watched the arc deepen, until the rod was almost doubled on itself, shaking.
“It’s going to,” Dima whispered, and Yarik said, “break,” and Dima said, “come loose” and then the stern dropped so fast that for a moment there was just the strain of all the air cupped within the boat against all the water trying to suck it down, the sound of something splitting, tearing….and then the boat jerked back up, its stern lifting off the surface, knocking the boys forward, noses to knees, and when they looked up the rod was gone.
Stumbling to his feet, Dima stood scanning the water for a hint of the rod streaking away. Or hurtling back at them.
The boatwall boomed.
He jerked, ripped a hand off the axe, flailed for the gunwale. Behind Dima: his brother laughing. Even in the dark, he could see the panic on Yarik’s face, the unnerved giddiness in his eyes as he banged the metal barrel on the boat-side again.
“Trusishka,” Yarik called him. He tried to make clucking noises as he bobbed his head, but he was laughing too hard; only sputtering came out.
The laughter passed from Yarik to Dima as these things always passed, as if the placentas that had once fed them were still conjoined, and Dima climbed onto the rowboat seat, shakily stood, threw back his face and crowed a laughter-rippled rooster’s call: “Kukareku!”
Yarik climbed beside him, crowed out his own: “Kukareku!”
On the thin metal bench, they stood side by side, beating their chests, calling into the night.
From the night, a call came back to them: some rooster of Nizhi crowing its reply. Such a long sound! So drawn out and furious! They counted it — odin, dva, tryi…fifteen, sixteen, seventeen — longer even than Dyadya Avya’s old crower, longer than they could push their own breath when they emptied their lungs in a wild burst of crowing back. How the rooster bellowed his challenge again at them! How they threw their crowing, boys and bird, across the black surface of the lake!
Until their crows turned to shouts, their shouts back to laughter, the laughter to breathing, the breathing quieting. They stood there, rocking. Above them, the stars filled the sky like sand filling a bucket of water until it seemed wholly comprised of grains of light. Below, Otseva’s surface filled with their reflection. All around the boat, the floating jars gleamed: a drifting constellation, water-borne.
“What if it comes back?” Yarik said.
And they passed between them the knowledge that that was why they had come out. For it to come back. So they could kill it. They stood thinking of their father, and how he must have tried, and they passed between them the truth that he had failed, and that they would fail, too, and they wondered again, silently, the thoughts they had wondered aloud in the night in their beds at Dyadya Avya’s — Where in them lived their souls? And had they grown side by side, same to same, in their mother’s womb as well? And if one was swallowed up, or died, or simply left, would the other go too? — and then they climbed down off the seat and went around the boat again, Dima with his axe, Yarik with the cleaver, cutting all the strings.
One by one, the jars floated away. The gleams separated from each other. The darkness between the boys and the boat widened and widened and then swallowed any sign of the jars at all.
“Out to see Nizhi ,” Dima tried. And after a moment: “Into the lake.” And then: “Where they sank, and the water swallowed them up, and they drowned.” Dima grinned, waited to feel his brother grin.
But his brother was clambering for one side of the boat, and Dima was scrambling to the other to keep from tipping, and into the darkness that somewhere hid the island Yarik was shouting, “Help! Help!”
Dima reached for him and drew him down again, beside him on the bench, whispered it would be OK, they were together. On the island, Yarik’s shouting had stirred some dog of Nizhi. It barked, so far out its sound was quiet as a creaking in the dark, and the sky drifted above the drifting boat, and the cold came on, slow and steady, as if the creaking was its footsteps creeping across the night towards the boys, and they leaned into each other, shivering.
When Dima climbed off the bench, Yarik followed. They slid together along the bottom of the boat until they lay stretched out, boots to bow, out of the wind, side by side, rocking. In the sky, the stars flickered, flickered, as if each distant dog bark caused the night to blink.
In unison, the brothers unzipped their jackets. They slipped their arms out of the sleeves. They paired each strip of zipper with its mate on the other’s jacket, worked at the pulls along the teeth until they were zipped in, facing each other, their jackets become one jacket that encased them both. Inside, they slid their fingers into each other’s pits. Against his hands, Dima could feel his brother’s heartbeat. Or was it his brother’s hands beating beneath Dima’s arms? Or was it his own heart pulsing? The wind rushed by above.
He might not have woken if it wasn’t for Yarik’s struggling. Over them, the searchlight washed across the boat, sparked off the empty oarlocks, was gone again.
Yarik tore the zipper open, shoved loose, sat up. Dima stayed lying where he was. He watched the light find his brother.
“Look!” Yarik called down at him.
Instead he shut his eyes.
“Allo!” Yarik shouted, “Allo!”
Dima listened to the night swallow the shout, to the water shushing beneath Yarik’s banging scramble for the bow, his brother’s frantic passed by, unseen, missed — until the gunshot silenced everything. Its blast filled the boat fast as if the bottom had been blown out, water rushing around Dima’s ears. Through it, he heard another boom, another. Eyes squeezed tight, he counted the shots — four, five, six — waiting for the seventh that would mean the gun was empty. It never came. Instead, there was his brother saying his name, asking him to sit up, telling him to look.
But when Dima rose, he kept his eyes shut. He would have stayed in the hull if, without his brother, it hadn’t been so cold. He climbed by feel onto the bench, leaned against Yarik. When the light hit his brother’s face, Dima opened his eyes. Bright as a full moon, the searchlight came, sweeping the lake, them, the lake. Until it held, blasting. Dima shut his eyes again. Through the

Meet the Author

Josh Weil was the recipient of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction for his debut novella collection, The New Valley. He has been named a National Book Award "5 Under 35" author, a Fulbright scholar, and was a Jersey Fellow at Columbia University. His fiction has appeared in Granta, StoryQuarterly, and New England Review, among others. Weil divides his time between New York City and Southwestern Virginia.

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The Great Glass Sea 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"This book is now on my top 10 list of favorites of all time. Right up there with People of the Book. It is a modern-day Russian fable, a love story of twin brothers struggling with the new Russia, a struggle of the agrarian/socialist/capitalist transition that changes everything. Imagine a glass greenhouse built over the state of Minnesota by a billionaire with mirrors on satellites which make white nights all year round. I could go on and on....but just trust me, this book is brilliant!