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The Ice-Shirt

(Seven Dreams #1)

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  901 ratings  ·  112 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, US Edition, 415 pages
Published August 1st 1993 by Penguin Books (first published 1990)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  901 ratings  ·  112 reviews

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Dec 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, nordic
How skewed a vision of distance you can develop from looking at our standardized world maps. Geography is such a malleable, unfathomable thing. I can take a beach ball globe of the world, deflate it and make all of the continents touch and overlap and commune with one another. I can spin it around and pick any dot and call it the Centre of the Universe, erase all the political lines we've scarred the landscape with and focus on the dreamy blue of the sea.

Who says the ancient peoples were
Sep 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: seven-dreams
Here in the American Mid-Atlantic the winters seem to be getting shorter and milder. I remember great ice storms in my youth, walking on what seemed ice a meter high, ice pelting the roof all night long, like a hundred cats’ nails clacking on a chapel floor or millions of insects hitting the window; I remember the creaking and groaning of limbs heavy with ice up there invisible in the unending darkness of a pitch black winter night as I walked out against my parents' warnings; I remember the ...more
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“A man is whatever room he is in right now.” - Japanese proverb

“Who do you want to be today?” – Oingo Boingo

William T. Vollmann is going to tell me a story, and he’s going to tell it long. Unlike a Homeric hymn, he’s going to begin at the beginning. He’s warned me that what I am about to read is unreliable. What do I have to lose? Everything.

Am I a product of my environment? Or am I a patchwork of genetic coding, living out the program created by the haphazard joining of thousands of generations
It was all unspeakably grand and beautiful. The world was still being created here.
Let's consider story for a moment. Let's consider the beginning, where belief has not yet turned to mythos and faith is sequestered by time, place, and persona. There is heat, and cold, a micro view of the inevitability of history birthing conflict through contact. Right now, there is the diaspora of culture, centuries of mixing and melding that the modern world can now afford to hazily view as all having
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Prelude to a Review

This book was my first introduction to WTV and means a lot to me personally.

I met my wife, F.M.Sushi, in 1990 and we got married in 1993. She was originally from Hobart in Tasmania, and in 1992 she suggested we go there for a quick trip. It was the first time I'd ever been to Tasmania and she was proud to show me around.

Tasmania is the smallest state in Australia, but it has always had an amazing literary culture. It might be the cold climate that is good for reading in
Apr 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jonathan by: Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

T. S. Eliot, in the Four Quartets.

Still from Chris Marker's "Sans Soleil"

My paternal grandparents owned, for most of my father's life and for all of mine (or at least, until their death in my mid-teens), a slate-roofed cottage deep in the mountains of North Wales. It passed to my father in their will, and only left the family once
Jun 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: vollman
4.5 stars
The first of Vollmann’s Seven Dreams series about the American people, landscape and continent, and about the relationships between Native Americans and those moving to the continent. This novel charts the movement of people of Norse origin to Iceland Greenland and finally to the coast of America. It reads like a saga and Vollmann has used contemporary sources and has drawn from the Heimskringla and especially the Flatyjarbok (a saga from a fourteenth century Icelandic source).
There is
Nick Craske
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Imagine an ärkāik, ornate and elaborate mosaic, each intricate facet symbolising a story-fragment of the Greenlander's quest to North America. Twist your imagination further, if you will, and see the mosaic start to turn'n'twist; rotate'n'tumble, shape-shifting in undulating Rubik's transformation.

For therein lies William The Blind's sprawling, Tolklien'esque travelogue; his reshaping, retelling of the Icelandic histories; the medieval Norse sagas and of the Viking's habitation of North America.

He was considered a man of foremost reputation. There he stayed for the remainder of his life, telling the story of WINELAND THE GOOD to all who asked to hear it. His listeners marveled at his luck and courage, and said that they had no wish to journey to such places.

However, I’ll continue my journey towards the next dream or Europe Central; or to meet The Royal Family.
Dec 02, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: u-s-lit, autographed
(Would you, reader, rather be a sheep or a bird? I say that the sweet sheep have no cares, and for that reason their stupidity is to be prized.)

Bill asks me this early, on page 9, in the Ice-Text, also known as The Book of Flatey 1382 and also known merely as A Historical Note, which is after the Preface but a bit before 1, THE CHANGERS, or, How the Bear-Shirt was lost, and the Ice-Shirt was found.

But I didn't answer Bill right away. I don't so easily dismiss the self-indulgent, being, well,
Nov 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
List of Maps
Ice-Text: The Book of Flatey (1382)

--The Ice-Shirt

In the Ice (1532-1931)
Orthographic Notes

I Glossary of Personal Names
II Glossary of Dynasties, Races and Monsters
III Glossary of Places
IV Glossary of Texts
V General Glossary

A Chronology of the First Age of Vinland
Sources and a Few Notes
Apr 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4-stars, fiction
Another excellent experience with Vollmann's Seven Dreams series. Majority of this one is in the 4-5 star range, although there are a couple of stretches that go off the deep end into the world of Vollmann's weird imagination. Freydus' venture down Yggdrasil and the short chapter on the history of the Greenland Skraelings were not really to my taste, but those were just short detours.

The history of the Old Kings in the beginning chapter was a lot of fun even though it requires keeping track of
Apr 02, 2013 added it
Among the saga-inspired novels I have been reading for my project, William T. Vollmann’s The Ice-Shirt manages to be simultaneously the one closest to the original sagas and the most contemporary one; it also is by far the most original and innovative and promises to be the beginning of an outright masterwork.

The masterwork in question is Seven Dreams, a series of seven novels (four of which having been published as I am writing this) dealing with the encounters between native American Indians
Nov 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
“Any shirt, be it of ever so many colors, is but a straitjacket, which is why I see no beauty, nor hear of any, except among the the naked. The clouds are as hard as stones, and we all dream one black dream.” Says our narrator William the Blind. Then, after adding that he will now dream seven, he admits this first, The Ice-Shirt, “is no more than a pack of lies”, from which I infer that it is by the blinding of our own serk (shirt) that we believe that the world we see, the “one black dream”, is ...more
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Anytime Ogres...Play Yesterday's Hits!

I’ll admit that for the first 150-pages or so, The Ice Shirt wasn’t doing anything for me. Chalk it up to my inner (read: Teutonic) killjoy: any time ogres and trolls come up, I just check out. There were flashes of brilliance, but I was exasperated by the seemingly endless cataloging of Nordic names and associative deeds, none of which were having any affect on me. It started to feel like, what I imagine, a lot of those fannypackers in the Fantasy
Stephen P
My review was erased. Just as well. It would not be fair to give the book a star-rating since in the end it turned out to be not my type of book. Vollmann is a great writer. My own tastes-obsessions are in literary fiction where the interiority of characters and their development are explored. History, and as it turns out historical fiction, fall flat. It is a genre problem for me and is no knock on this writer or book. Obviously, it is very well written and for anyone who is interested in a ...more
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
4.5 rounded up.

Usually when I give a book 5 stars (or 1 star) I feel the need to justify my reasons. The problem is I don't know why I loved this book so much. I didn't even like it at first. Here's how my reading went:

OMG so excited to start this book!
Part I and II WTF am I reading and why do I care about all these meaningless kings this is a possible DNF
Beginning of part III - Ok this is getting better and making more sense and reading more like a novel.
Halfway in part III - Holy shit this
Aug 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: seven-dreams
Experiencing The Ice-Shirt was like listening to a grandpa tell his stories of an adventure he had traveling through some uncharted, icy lands filled with monsters, warriors, and gods(many, many gods). As a reader of the history you are hooked and believe all the words that are told. WTV can definitely make you believe anything he writes; Of course the Inuits are created from two boys, one turning into a women(this was one of my favorite parts). The comparison to men transitioning into women was ...more
Aiden Heavilin
Jun 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy

I tend to find William T. Vollmann's writing enjoyable on a visceral, emotional level, lacking the focused intellectual vigor of a writer like Pynchon or Gaddis. His books are explosions of words and images, furious, dissonant jazz solos. I find much of his work enjoyable in the moment, sometimes even blissful, but when I return to analyze it, to say why it is good, I often come up short. And I am left unsure whether this is the sign of a great artist or a bad one.

Vollmann was right to label
Ronald Morton
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Ice-Shirt is the first Dream/Volume of Vollmann’s “Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes” series. It covers from roughly 200CE to 1430CE, and is primarily concerned with the interactions between the Vikings and the native North American people. It is a combination of historical fiction and myth, weaving together the myriad myths and sagas of the Vikings with the myths of the Inuits and the Mi'kmaws (Micmacs in the book). The subtitle of the series “A Book of North American ...more
Marc Kozak
Aug 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
Don't read this book unless you're prepared to spontaneously grow a beard.

Christopher Columbus and his impeccable PR agency have successfully infiltrated the American consciousness, becoming the name most people immediately think of when asked who first discovered America. However, many have recognized the Norseman Leif Erikson as being the one who first discovered what is now Newfoundland, hundreds of years before Columbus was ever born. Why hasn't Erikson's name become as ubiquitous as
Mar 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Pretty engaging, when it was talking about Freydis and co. in the 1200's, but the 1987 travelogue portions really didn't feel like they had a place, and they distracted from what I considered to be the main story. Also, the ending disappointed; you could call Vollmann a master of anticlimax, and maybe you'd be right...or you could say The Ice-Shirt falls apart at the end. Which I do.
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Will you tell the Museum" I said
He shook his head. "It's better here."
- from the frist dream, The Ice-Shirt by William T. Vollman.

Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Within these pages, Vollmann has woven a vast, glittering Song of the North. It is a song so eerily stunning, it eludes my abilities to capture in a review. The Song includes the most gorgeous of dreams and the most harrowing of nightmares. It scales the sharpest tip of the highest ice mountain and descends to the coldest, iciest regions of a Hell you won't soon forget. It has joy and it has sadness. It has everything.

Oh, just go ahead and read it. You will probably either love it or end up
Eddie Watkins
May 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
I've heard Vollman compared to Pynchon, but I don't see it, besides maybe their ambition and their interest in and compassion for marginal people. In style they're worlds apart. Pynchon precise and poetical. Vollman shambolic and sprawling. But I do find it odd that both came out with books relating to Vinland (Vollman directly, Pynchon allusively) at nearly the same time. I find it very odd.
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Holy crap, this is a super-challenging read, but so, so impressive. Vollmann’s writing is amazing to the point that at times I just gaped at it, but he's such a magician that the spell holds and I never felt like he was just showing off. Everything is so deeply researched, intricately imagined and skillfully executed, and the heart behind it feels very humane--really a peak reading experience. Now I need brain candy. John Sandford, where’s that feckin’ Flowers?
Dillon Strange
Feb 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Now I understand why Vollmann has been slapped with the "difficult" tag. This is his retelling of the Norse settling of North America and their first encounters with the Micmac indians, volume 1 of his seven dreams series that is a "speculative history" of european domination of native americans. Previously I read The Rifles and was blown away, even telling several friends it was one of the best books I had ever encountered. I came to The Ice-Shirt wanting more of the same and was disappointed. ...more
Nov 02, 2015 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. This was a strange book and it was very fascinating in its way. My only issue with it was that I couldn't keep track of the characters. When it referred to an event and/or character from earlier in the book, I would be completely lost. I almost feel like I should have been taking notes during the read. Frustrations aside, it was very well written. At first he told the story more in the Viking Saga style and it was fun but it was also an impossible to follow list of king after king. ...more
May 08, 2018 added it
Shelves: 20th-century
By way of a belated review, I'll just say that Vollmann did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Icelandic sagas while making something unique and personal from them. Where Vollmann is verbose, the sagas are laconic. Where Vollmann is descriptive, the sagas are spare. He took, as source material for the main narrative, some of the least interesting saga narratives, and turned them into something exciting and brilliant, while they remain enigmatic. And here he lays the foundation of nearly ...more
Mar 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviews
The Ice-Shirt's Glossary is a 50 page long section comprised of a Glossaries recounting the innumerable research William T. Vollmann has put into this, Volume One, and the remaining six dreams (as of July 2014, only four of them have been published), which can be envisioned as a 3000-5000 page master-novel.

So far (I'm prepared to read these things in order, but probably won't get to Fathers and Crows until I'm fresh out of other Vollmann to read; although, when Vollmann does intriguingly say
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William Tanner Vollmann is an American novelist, journalist, short story writer and essayist. He lives in Sacramento, California with his wife and daughter.

Other books in the series

Seven Dreams (6 books)
  • Fathers and Crows
  • The Rifles
  • Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith
  • The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War
  • The Cloud Shirt (extract)
“(Can you understand your own dreams, which arise with mushrooms' rank richness in the night-forests within your skull?)” 7 likes
“But where corpses were buried secretly, there the grass grows thick; such signs (and there are ever so many others!) may be read by those to whom truth is more important than beauty.” 5 likes
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