Charles's Reviews > The Great Glass Sea

The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil
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Jun 24, 2014

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bookshelves: first-reads, science-fiction, stat_3, reviewed

First Reads Review - The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil

This is a difficult book to review, in part because my expectations going into it were so very different from what actually ended up being the book. I should say, from the description I was thinking this was going to be a magic realism sort of contemporary fantasy set in Russia. The set in Russia part of that was correct, but this is not a fantasy. It's more a science fiction given the satellites that beam down sunlight from space to power the enormous greenhouse. But more than that it's a literary book about two brothers who fall apart, who let life get between them and find that things aren't as simple as they had thought. Both brothers, Dima and Yarik, are deeply flawed, though in different directions, and in the end the book seems to throw up its hands and declare there is no good answer,r no easy one. The world and how we organize it conspires to make us unhappy and lonely.

The book is tragic. The trajectory of both Dima and Yarik is a downward one from childhood, but even their childhoods were not pleasant. Their parents were not happy in Soviet Russia and their father killed himself. Their mother went into a deep depression at that and the boys went to live with their uncle, who was a farmer and a fantasist who told them stories. That was basically the peak of their lives, not because things were great but because they believed things could be great. They wanted a better life together and they thought it was possible. That dream was still alive. But as they grew and life seemed to take away more and more, the brothers started to fall. To fall apart and inward. Yarik started making concessions, find room for a wife, for children. He sacrificed the dream to have a life that was just enough. And Dima refused to sacrifice his dream and so sacrificed his life. Neither option worked, and for all the book hovers on how they stopped supporting each other, even if one of them had done what the other was doing it wouldn't have worked. They could neither have their dream or really be happy without it.

So yeah, the book is not a happy one. Add in that their mother gets dementia and Yarik starts to get very successful while betraying himself, his dream, and his morality, and that Dima gets drawn into a number of resistance movements against his will, used to try and stir up the people, and the book has a lot of tension. But not a lot of action. I feel that it's part of what the book is trying to say, that here are two men trying to avoid the struggle. They don't want revolution. They want this simple existence and cannot have it. So whenever things look to be about to become very action-heavy, they fold. They give up. They surrender. It makes sense for the story but it was a bit frustrating to read.

And in the end the book was good, was interesting, but a bit too long and a bit too dry for my tastes. There's a lot to it, and a lot to enjoy for people wanting a brooding, methodical piece. The language is effective and the structure epic and classic. But the characters and the message are both a bit hard to get into. The book gets to the heart of a problem, the lack of leisure, the betrayal of dreams. But it doesn't offer much up. It doesn't give many solutions. It's not a bad book, but I just couldn't get into it as much as I would have liked. A 7/10 for me.
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Reading Progress

June 24, 2014 – Shelved
June 24, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
June 24, 2014 – Shelved as: first-reads
October 6, 2014 – Started Reading
January 4, 2015 –
page 28
5.91% "An interesting start. Slow, but nothing wrong with that."
March 8, 2015 –
page 154
32.49% "Starting to get more interesting..."
April 15, 2015 –
page 322
67.93% "Still going. Not the most thrilling of reads, but it has a weight to it, a tragedy as the two brothers drift further and further apart."
April 20, 2015 –
page 416
87.76% "Still rather good, but still rather slow. Something's gotta happen soon, right?"
April 21, 2015 –
page 474
100.0% "Finally done! Not a bad book, but this took me forever to finish and I am slightly happy to be done. Sad, because wow was that a downer. But pleased."
April 21, 2015 – Shelved as: science-fiction
April 21, 2015 – Shelved as: stat_3
April 21, 2015 – Finished Reading
April 22, 2015 – Shelved as: reviewed

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