Rudolfs Blaumanis’s 1899 short story masterpiece, based on a contemporary newspaper account, tells of several fishermen lost at sea after the ice floe on which they work calves off and drifts away rapidly. One by one, the thirteen men and a boy must deal with the creeping reality that they may not see the mainland – or their loved ones – again. There is fish to eat, and two horses if necessary, but the very surface of the floe is eroding steadily … and the nights are cold and terrible. Without ever moralising or over-elaborating, Blaumanis coolly and efficiently observes the state of each of the main characters in turn, whether natural leaders, optimists, craven opportunists, terrified, stoic, compassionate or alienated. In the shadow of encroaching death, each must come to some kind of reckoning.
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