CHICAGO: In “Ice,” written by celebrated Egyptian author
Sonallah Ibrahim, Shukri, a 35-year-old graduate, is pursuing his
studies in Moscow in 1973. The winter is harsh, global politics are
rampant and life in the “heart of the socialist utopia” is
seemingly desperate, painful and brimming with history. Based on
his own experiences studying at the All-Russian Institute of
Cinematography, Ibrahim’s book weaves between his life, that of
his friends, and the international politics that seem to change the
world around them.
Soviet life is tough in the Brezhnev-era. Revolutions and past
leaders are still vibrant in people’s minds. At the university,
students go about their days as they walk through the city and its
political banners that read “Forward Towards Communism” and
“Long Live the Soviet People, Building Communism.” The winter
is harsh as Shukri endures below-freezing temperatures and illness.
His friend still cries over the death of Khrushchev, whose funeral
Shukri attended with a journalist friend, recalling that he passed
the graves of Chekhov, Gogol and Mayakovsky.
Shukri’s views are cold, methodical and often misogynistic as
he describes life in Moscow as if keeping a diary. In between what
is happening in the city, students from all over the world keep
each other updated about global politics: Jordanian courts hand
down the death sentence to 36 Palestinian freedom fighters, the
Soviet’s push an Iraqi Ba’athist narrative to round up
Nasserists, Libya recognizes East Germany, a military coup in
Chile, war with Israel begins, America signs a cease-fire in
Vietnam, eastern-European politics, and in his own country of
Egypt, his friend writes to tell him not to return.
Between watching movies, reading books, going to the theater,
working on his Arabic typewriters, listening to Muhammed Abdel
Wahab and Farid Al-Atrash LPs, and passing through famous sites
such as Pushkin Square, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the
Kremlin Clock and St. Basil’s Cathedral, Shukri moves through
life quickly and without second thought, his friends and
interactions limited and on the surface.
Ibrahim spent five years in political prison in the late 1950s
to early 1960s. “Ice” was originally published in Arabic in
2011 and then translated into English by Margaret Litvin and
published in English by Seagull Books in 2019.
Source: FS – All – Interesting – News
Book Review: Cold, methodical ‘Ice’ weaves politics and life together