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The Rifles

(Seven Dreams #6)

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  388 ratings  ·  48 reviews
The latest installment of Vollmann's seven-part epic chronicling the clash of Europeans and Native Americans in the New World. Volume six focuses on the white explorers of the mid-1800s, desperately dreaming of forging a Northwest passage.
Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 1st 1995 by Penguin Books (first published February 24th 1994)
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Ice. Cold.

Cold. Cold. Cold.

A place so cold that I have not been; and I'm guessing you have not been either.

Sir John Franklin went there four times, trying to find the Northwest Passage.

The Inuit went there because they were not wanted below the Arctic line.

The Author went there, I guess, for the existential experience.

Some fared better than others.

----- ----- ----- ----- -----

If you've read any of Vollmann's Seven Dreams series, you will know that this will be equal parts interpretative, self-
Feb 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Suppose you draw a straight line.
Suppose that line breaks.
Suppose that line goes on into an infinite direction into other straight lines.
Suppose that line is time.
Suppose that time is a man-made object.
Suppose that time is not real.
Suppose that our perception of life relates to which area we spatially observe and not when we are.
Suppose that point where we stand is when we are.
Suppose we fly with our arms like a bird.
Suppose this rock, this ice, this crevice in the rock and ice, the green
Apr 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
List of Maps
Rifle-Text: The Quest for Polar Treasures (1933)

--The Rifles

Straight Shots (1741-1991)

I Glossary of Personal Names
II Glossary of Nations, Organizations and Kinship Terms
III Glossary of Places
IV General Glossary

A Chronology of the Sixth Age of Wineland
Sources and a Few Notes
Exchange of Letters on the Relocation Allegations
Equipment List for Isachsen Trip
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: seven-dreams

Excerpt from a letter to the Makivik Corporation from William T. Vollmann, found in the appendices to his novel The Rifles:
"I have just completed a book which is partially concerned with the relocation of Inuit families from Inukjuak, Quebec and Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord in the 1950’s...

...The basic theme of my book is one that you might disagree with as being too gloomy: that non-Inuit are rapidly and irrevocably destroying most Inuit lifeways, leaving in thei
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
From interviews with Bill:

"All these worlds that I see and write about are equally real and can coexist, so it’s not like I have to leave my own world in order to inhabit them. That’s my ability, I guess. But this also means that these different worlds are also equally unreal, so I can’t take anything too seriously. None of them take precedence over any others."

"Later on, I began to realize that it’s pretty hard to know yourself, harder still harder to know the other, and what’s hardest of all
Allow me to lose whatever credibility or goodwill you may have for me...

Of WTV's nearly countless iterations and interests (full-length novels, connected shorts collections, photography, ethnography, essaying, poetry, journalism...), the one that holds the least interest to me is the Seven Dreams project. I know it's because I'm a killjoy and am supernaturally averse to historical fiction—trust me, I get it. And it's not as though the few that I've read haven't worked and worked well for me. I'v
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
Writing with No Distance From Your Subject

In the last couple of years I've read a fair number of arctic and antarctic stories, including Christoph Ransmayr's well-reviewed 'Terrors of Ice and Darkness.' My wager is that when enough time has passed, many will fade away.

This one is different, and reason is simple, although it's not entirely clear from some other reviews here or on Amazon. Vollmann really put his heart into this: he lived in the North (he fell in love there, and he may even have f
Sono stato l'unica persona in Italia ad averlo in anteprima nazionale... Me lo hanno giurato al Pisa book festival quelli di minimum fax... compralo che sarai l'unico... per 10 giorni ho tenuto in mano questo libro solo io... tze'. Vanità delle vanità, tutto è vanità. #crediamoci
Griffin Alexander
Mar 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bill, the-past
My first of WTV's Seven Dreams. This book made me feel physically cold—it impressed, upset, and transfixed me (I dreamt of reading this book every night after putting it down). The moments of deep emotional weight here occupy instances of slippage between time and/or character—through reincarnation that works both ways, intense lead poisoning, extreme exposure to cold coupled with privation, or all of the above. This aspect of hallucination ultimately impressed me most: the hallucination of huma ...more
Jan 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Another damned good book by Vollmann. His descriptions both of the tattered Inuit society and of the Franklin expedition are bone-chilling. Felt shivers throughout.
Neal Adolph
Nov 01, 2015 rated it liked it
William T. Vollmann’s name sounds serious, laden with that extra weight provided by a great germanic name. It’s that second ‘n’, right at the very end, a bit of a surprise for the reader who thinks that one suffices but discovers that they are wrong and that his name, like his identity, would be incomplete without that dual duals in his family name, the one dual in his given name, and that T, like some cross between two great names, the point where they meet, the hint of some great mystery. What ...more
Nov 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I haven't read Vollmann before but he is an author that has been on my reading radar for quite a while. I enjoyed this book overall although I must say that some parts for me were more palatable then others. I enjoyed the descriptions of the desolation, the ice, the environment and the Inuit people both in the past and the present. The exploration of the ill fated Franklin expedition was brilliant in my opinion.

However I did find myself confused by some of the narration, the time sequences (and
This is the fourth book I've read from Vollmann's Seven Dreams series, and for me, it was the easiest to follow, despite the twinning and tripling of characters, times, and places - often within the same paragraph.

Modern day Captain Subzero is exploring the same territory - geographic and gynecologic - as the 19th-century British Arctic explorer, John Franklin. Metaphorically, and possibly metempsychotically, Franklin and Subzero are pursuing the same woman, Reepah, but in different time-spaces
This book is part history about Franklin's last Expedition to discover the Northwest Passage and his demise, and part travelogue on Vollmann's wanderings and camping in the Arctic. I enjoyed reading Vollmann's Arctic trip, the people he met and stayed with, what to take, what equipment works good and not so good. At the back of the book he includes a packing list of items along with some other good information.
Oct 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Vollmann does it again with this amazing ride into the Arctic and into the past. North America's history and landscapes are laid bare in this series of seven books/dreams (not yet finished) and this volume is unique and as amazing as the others. It reads beautifully, all the landscape work and meta-textual blending of time and characters as they all experience the same landscapes and the harshness it brings. Sad and pathetic what befalls relocated Inuit by the Canadian government as well as what ...more
David M
Dec 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
"He knew that cold was only a negation, not a substance, but what sharp teeth it had" - pp 288 (growing up in a city where it would regularly fall below zero for weeks at a time, you were never in danger, but there's a sense of active persecution, forced confinement; the cold is death; Eros and Thanatos, vollmann certainly pays tribute)
Amante Libri
Ho apprezzato molto la prosa che si fa poesia a tratti, che muta al mutare della trama, ma questo libro è davvero troppo onirico per me e mi ha infastidito il fatto che spesso pare perdersi come se non sapesse dove andare a parare.

Traduzione: C. Mennella
Editore: #minimumfax
Pag: 498
Voto: 3/5
Alexander Weber
I'm falling in love with William the Blind. So far I have only read the abridged version of Rising Up and Rising Down (4/5 stars) and The Atlas (4.5/5 stars). I really loved The Atlas, as I felt there was real beauty and true human loneliness dripping from that book. Vollmann actually manages to get you to share a deep human emotion, which is all too rare. He just comes off as so honest and sincere...and oh so lonely.

The Rifles is the best of the three, sharing features from both. It is part his
Dillon Strange
Feb 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is the book that has sparked my current William Vollmann obsession. This guy gets a bad rap for being "difficult" but I found this book to be really accessible. It is book 6 in his 7 dreams series that explores the history of the exploitation of native north american people, in this case the Inuit or eskimos, by colonization. If that sounds like a downer to you, it's because it totally is, but Vollmann pulls this off by writing a book unlike any other I had ever read. The story is partly th ...more
Dec 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Another dreamy, sad, surreal slice of history from Vollmann. Much like The Ice Shirt, something of a sequel, as Vollmann says. Not as powerful as Fathers And Crows or Argall, but still I liked it. Much more of Vollmann's own adventures in this one, as he becomes the reincarnation of Franklin, who died on his attempt to find the northwest passage. Sort of. Possibly Franklin is the reincarnation of Vollmann, and the woman Vollmann falls for his is own northest passage. It's a bit strange, is what ...more
Dec 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Vollmann raids the survival couture closet, grabs his Mossberg 12 GA. and heads to the magnetic north pole. While trying to keep from freezing to death he manages to hook up with an unstable eskimo girl and write brilliant, penetrative prose about his surroundings, the people that inhabit the surroundings, and the people that discovered and/or set out in age old expeditions to said surroundings. I haven't read Argall yet, but at this point, this is my favorite of the Seven Dreams Series. A class ...more
Jul 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Much like Vollmann's earliest works, there is a hefty ick factor in The Rifles surrounding his advances on an Eskimo woman. That plot recedes and is supplanted by an account of his time camping above the Arctic Circle and a historical recreation of the doomed Franklin expedition, the latter is deftly paced situated: an absurdist comedy of manners. There is a curious essay iwthin about the advances of firearms, which I found intriguing but ultimately disparate.
Rachel C.
Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rachel C. by: Alex
Alex was the first of my guy friends to complete my International Women's Day challenge and this is the book he wanted me to read in exchange.

The evocation of the Arctic is very detailed and visceral, both the beauty and the harshness of the environment. I've read a few other things about the Arctic and the human stories are among the most memorable and horrifying I have ever encountered. This is a fairly tame example from the book: "Hood remembered a pair of new shoes his father had given him f
James Murphy
This is the Sixth Dream in Vollmann's ongoing series called Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes in which he recounts the history of European contact with aboriginal Americans. The Rifles concerns contact with the Inuit, both by the doomed Franklin expedition of the 1840s and by a modern day reincarnation of Franklin called Captain Subzero who visits a settlement on Baffin Island, in the Arctic. I'd read Wanting by Richard Flanagan several months ago. It included John Franklin as a ...more
Kye Alfred Hillig
Sep 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I heard Vollmann say that this is one of the books that he is proudest of and I can see why. He weaves history into fiction into memoir. And he does it all with that deadly poetic bite of his. You can feel the loneliness of the Canadian landscape and its beauty. This tale of a love triangle in which he (or a character that almost identically resembles him aka Captain Subzero) finds himself so hopelessly tangled that all you can do is watch as it falls apart. Suicide and survival and a peoples wh ...more
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Apr 07, 2009 rated it did not like it
read this a couple years ago. some nice parts, kind of obnoxious and sleazo.
Brent Woo
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vollmann
Well, this was an adventure. Such a """fun""" book, but I use that in the most oblique way -- the core subject matter is as morbid and dark as they come (the cannibalistic frozen 4th Franklin Expedition), it's unrelentingly chilly in both disaffectedness and temperature, and it's vulgar (aka 'raw'). The "fun" part is its wild presentation: it's eagle-eye precise at times but then just batshit disorienting and vague elsewhere. I felt as if I was dog-paddling in a rocky ocean, and sometimes the wa ...more
Samuele Petrangeli
Ci sta una differenza fra libri che raccontano una storia e libri che invece parlano di. In quelli che raccontano la storia, l'autore scompare, passa in secondo piano, in favore della realtà narrativa che emerge - boh, che so, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, avete capito. Nei libri che parlano di, invece, l'autore non scompare mai, anzi rimane sempre piuttosto presente. Carrere, o Knausgard. Sia chiaro: non è che sia una differenza veramente netta, e soprattutto qualitativa. Era solo un modo per ...more
Brent Hayward
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
5 of the 7 Dreams down, the ones that Vollmann's managed to write so far, anyhow. Thousands of pages and eight months later, I'm drained. Also educated, fired-up, and depressed. Vollmann's brain is dark and mercurial. He wants us to understand that our history is one of conquer and vanquish, of desease and death, and god forbid if you're part of some tenuous colony living off the land when the white man's ships drop anchor and the guns come out blazing.

This book was a little different than the o
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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)
  • The Ice-Shirt
  • Fathers and Crows
  • Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith
  • The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War
  • The Cloud Shirt (extract)
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“Maybe life is a process of trading hopes for memories.” 24 likes
“In the preface of "The Rifles"
"Another rule we followed was never kill an animal that we were not going to use for food or clothing." Barnabas Piryuaq
"Well, in those high latitudes we found such quantities of seals and walruses that we simply did not know what to do with them.There were thousands and thousands lying there; we walked among them and hit them on the head, and laughed heartily in the abundance which God had created." Jan Welzi 1933. ”
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