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)!