Review: The Tsar of Love and Techno

Posted 9 December, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 6 Comments

The Tsar of Love and Techno
By: Anthony Marra
Format/Source: eARC courtesy of the publishers via NetGalley

This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking. A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts. In stunning prose, with rich character portraits and a sense of history reverberating into the present, The Tsar of Love and Techno is a captivating work from one of our greatest new talents.

I read Anthony Marra’s first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (review), two years ago and absolutely loved it; it was one of my favourite books read that year. I had no idea he was coming out with this story collection until early this year when fellow bloggers were talking about it so I was pretty excited about it. I was fortunate to have been approved an eARC of this book by the publishers through NetGalley for review. This book was published on 06 October 2015.

Finishing The Tsar of Love and Techno has solidified Anthony Marra’s place as one of my favourite authors. A few pages into this book I already knew that I had something special in my hands; I was absolutely drawn into the stories featured in this book. When I first heard of it, I was curious to know how these various stories–the 1930s censor, young wayward men conscripted to fight in the first Chechen war, a woman who briefly became a movie star–would intersect; having read it now, I am amazed at how the author seamlessly wove these seemingly different stories from different periods throughout the twentieth century together. I would gasp in delight when a reference from a previous story would make an appearance in a later story or a story seemingly ended would be picked up at another point. I should also note that Anthony Marra does a wonderful job in bringing those various periods of twentieth century Russia to life, whether it be the socio-economic difficulties of the 1990s and now to the height of the Great Terror in the late 1930s; it really felt like I was there with the characters as I was reading their stories unfold.

What’s also really captivating about this collection of stories is the range of stories that it tells. These characters face some really stark realities, either in the past or the present (or both) and their reactions and just the emotions and conundrums they go through are just so human. I really felt for these characters regardless of how remote their life experiences are from my own; they just want to survive, to live and love without reserve or politics or fear or guilt. Often times things turn out bleak–relationships end, family intevenes (for good or for ill), the times have changed–but even the bleakest of characters have their moments of clarity and something close to contentedness, even if it’s something as small as a conversation with a fellow comrade or taking pride in their training and their work.

The writing, like A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, was absolutely stunning, perhaps even more so here. I found myself stopping a lot while reading, going back, re-reading a sentence or a paragraph, because the turn of phrase was just amazing: sometimes funny, sometimes beautiful, sometimes just achingly haunting for something the character longs for and that has already passed.

If this write-up doesn’t say too much about the book, it’s because I don’t want to go deep into spoiler territory because it’s really a book you need to read for yourself. The Tsar of Love and Techno was just fantastic from start to finish, I can’t say there was a story in this collection that I didn’t enjoy; they all had their own merits and fascinating points about them. I highly recommend checking out this book (and his previous novel)!

Rating: ★★★★★

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6 Responses to “Review: The Tsar of Love and Techno”

  1. I’d never heard of this before, but the title intrigued me and now that I’ve read your review, it seems pretty clear I need to try to get a copy! I particularly like that you mention that you found yourself rereading sentences for their beauty–that’s what I do with Catherynne Valente’s prose and that makes the stories worth reading, even when the plots sometimes fall a little flat for me.

    • I love it when I come across a book like that, where the sentences are absolutely stunning and you find yourself going back and re-reading them <3 This book sort of crept up on me, I had no idea it was coming out until someone had mentioned it earlier this year. I hope you manage to get a copy! 😀

  2. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book, it doesn’t get released for another few days…I loved A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and have been excited for this book for a long time, then Australia didn’t release it and it was about $50 to buy because of importing. sigh

  3. One of my colleagues loves this book and after reading this, I think it should be something that I try as well. I love Russian literature and a weaving narrative.

    Thanks for the great review and for popping by my TTT 🙂

    • Ooh, definitely worth picking up in this case! I hope you enjoy it when you get to it; I’m thinking of re-reading it sometime this year, it was so beautifully written *happy sigh* 🙂

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