Ice, a translation of al-Jalid by Sonallah Ibrahim, was published by Seagull Books in 2019. It is distributed by the University of Chicago Press.
The year is 1973. An Egyptian historian, Shukri, pursues a year of non-degree graduate studies in Moscow, the presumed heart of the socialist utopia. Through his eyes, the reader receives a guided tour of the sordid stagnation of Brezhnev-era Soviet life: intra-Soviet ethnic tensions; Russian retirees unable to afford a tin of meat; a trio of drunks splitting a bottle of vodka on the sidewalk; a Kirgiz roommate who brings his Russian girlfriend to live in his four-person dormitory room; black-marketeering Arab embassy officials; liberated but insecure Russian women; and Arab students’ debates about the geographically distant October 1973 War. Shukri records all this in the same numbly factual style familiar to fans of Sonallah Ibrahim’s That Smell, punctuating it with the only redeeming sources of beauty available: classical music LPs, newly acquired Russian vocabulary, achingly beautiful women, and strong Georgian tea.
Based on Ibrahim’s own experience studying at the All-Russian Institute of Cinematography in Moscow from 1971 to 1973, Ice offers a powerful exploration of Arab confusion, Soviet dysfunction, and the fragility of leftist revolutionary ideals.