Content anchor

Jacek Dukaj, Ice

Book cover of Ice by Jacek Dukaj

The action in Jacek Dukaj’s novel takes place in an alternative reality where World War I never broke out. It’s the year 1924, and the Polish Kingdom is still in the Belle Epoque under the rule of the Tsar.

Warsaw is in the grip of ice – roads are buried under snowstorms in the middle of summer. Lute – otherworldly angels of frost – are walking around the streets of cities, freezing truth and lies... Benedykt Gierosławski, a talented mathematician, but also a confirmed gambler, takes the Trans-Siberian express at the request of the Tsar’s Ministry of Winter to frozen Irkutsk, where he goes in search of his father, who is believed to be able to communicate with the angels of frost. Thousands of rubles in cash would free Benedykt from his debts, but isn’t the mission too dangerous? It soon becomes clear that for Benedykt, this journey will be a life-changing experience...

The story is fraught with breath-taking twists and turns, with political, love, crime, and economic, scientific and metaphysical intrigue; it is full of fascinating characters, and the action stretches between dirty buildings in Tsarist Warsaw, the luxury of the Trans-Siberian Express with a frozen Asia in the background, salons of the rich Polish bourgeoisie in Irkutsk and the palace of the governor-general – it is a novel which all fans of real adventure have been waiting for; it is intelligent, intellectually stimulating, changing our view on reality.

Ice is a novel about history, or rather, about a history which does not exist. In this literary masterpiece by Jacek Dukaj readers are not only able to get to know a fascinating and chilling alternative history of the world, but also have the opportunity to go on an extraordinary journey on the Trans-Siberian Express together with the main character and stand face to face with the Other.

Jacek Dukaj has once again proven that sci-fi has a lot to say.

The graphic design of the book is by Tomasz Bagiński – an illustrator, winner of many prestigious global computer animation awards, and a director whose animated film based on Dukaj’s The Cathedral was nominated for an Oscar.

Jacek Dukaj (b. 1974) – one of the most interesting contemporary Polish writers, whose books are always eagerly anticipated. Author of In the Land of the Unfaithful, Black Oceans, Extensa, Other Songs, An Ideal Imperfection, Xavras Wyżryn and Other National Fictions, and initiator of the anthology PL+50. Stories of the Future. Regular winner of the Janusz A. Zajdel Awards, and three-time nominee for a Polityka Passport Award.


The book was nominated for a Nike Award in 2008.


Gazeta Wyborcza presents the books nominated for the Nike Literary Award: 

History in the Freezer

The action in the novel Ice takes place in 1924. The protagonist is Benedykt Gierosławski – a young boy, a gambler, a notorious card player who does not know how to get rid of a serious debt. Gierosławski is summoned to the Ministry of Winter, where he is told that he will get money to repay his debts if he goes on a long journey on the Trans-Siberian railway to Irkutsk in search of his father. No one has had contact with the elder Gierosławski for a long time, after he was exiled for his participation in a conspiracy years ago. However, the old political issue is irrelevant. The point is that the father is able to communicate with the Lute.

Because the world in 1924 is conquered by eternal ice. In June 1908, the Tunguska meteorite fell in Siberia, and ‘in the spring of 1909, news about new meteorological phenomena started coming from the north, namely about a never-ending winter, and cruel, unprecedented frosts, which continue to paralyse central Siberia despite the formal change of seasons’. After a while, the frost enveloped parts of Europe, including Warsaw.

1908 is thus the border of fiction for Dukaj. Due to the cataclysm, events played out differently – World War I never happened, there was no Bolshevik revolution, Polish independence did not come in 1918, the Russian Empire is still doing well. Because the rebels, and history in general, have been frozen: ‘Lenin now only bites the calves of Swiss nurses’, in the Duma ‘the Trotskyists are no longer in a tactical alliance with Stolypin’s Trudoviks. (...) What difference does it make to a Pole? These Russian authorities or the other ones.’

The word ‘warming’ takes on different meanings in the novel. Of course, there is the basic sense – everyone is terribly cold and dreams about the end of winter, even the Americans want to somehow invest their capital in this process. ‘Siberian companies and the Tsar pour money into research’ in order to understand more about the angels of Frost. In politics there are two factions: the first hope that the cold will go away, and the others believe that stagnation will continue. Although Warsaw and Poland in the 20s are largely Russified, our national cause, as you would expect, does not matter at all. The mayor of Irkutsk is a Pole, and many Polish merchants trading in Siberia have made a fortune in this new situation.

While Jacek Dukaj’s writing has generally been described as science fiction, Ice defies easy categorisation. This is because Ice is traditional in form or rather deliberately styled as traditional; it might even be called a pastiche of the traditional novel. Dukaj’s narrative has a broad perspective; it strives to provide a great panoramic view in a geographical sense – European and Asian, and also in a chronological sense – a full description of the great history of the era. At the same time, Jacek Dukaj is not afraid of detail; he gives a faithful representation of the start of the century, skilfully uses archaic language, even plays with old orthography, and willingly throws in Russicisms. He refers to many authentic names and people, and it is only after 1908 that he adds fictional elements to their biographies.

Although Ice can be called a novel with a spectacular plot, its most interesting feature is the alternative view on history. Dukaj does not subject himself to the dictatorship of fast-paced action; he often takes a pause to describe a secondary event. It might not be relevant to the main plot, but it creates atmosphere. We already get a detailed description of a street accident in the first pages of the novel.

Author: Marek Radziwon –, 23 June, 2008, transl. Bozhana Nikolova

Tags: jacek dukajiceTomasz Bagińskiwydawnictwo literackienike 2008nike nominations

Did you like our article? English newsletter here

Sign up for newsletter

  • 0 subscribers
  • In accordance with the law from August 29, 1997, relating to the protection of personal data (consolidated text, Journal of Laws, 2002, no. 101, Item 926), I am hereby giving my formal consent to the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, located at 25 Mokotowska Street in Warsaw (00-560), to process my personal data.

  • Email Marketingby GetResponse

See also: