Monday, February 13, 2017

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

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.

In his brilliant collection of short stories, The Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra peels back the layers of Russian life to reveal a collection of people that is unforgettable.  Moving from the Russia of 1937 to the Russia of the future, Marra manages to make this collection about more than just heartbreak and loss, joy and triumph.  He makes Russia herself a star of each short story, illuminating her turbulent past, her harsh present, and her hopeful future.

         The stories in the collection could each stand alone, but characters appear in one story and are then referenced in future stories as well.  These vignettes capture the Russian life that each individual character experiences, as well as their interactions with each other.  As the stories move through time, you get to see a fuller picture of the lives that are affected by various events. 
         Many of the stories have a militaristic lean, with references to the Soviet system that resulted in heartbreak for families, violent skirmishes, and the pillaging of rich land.  The stories are nuanced, but yet simple, and provide the reader with insight into the human condition even in harsh circumstances.

         Since the characters reappear throughout the stories, The Tsar of Love and Techno reads a bit like a novel.  I found this welcoming, as I am not typically a fan of short story collections. None of the stories were clunkers.  The first, “The Leopard”, about a Soviet censor, sets the tone for the rest of the stories.  I loved it and knew, while reading it, that I was reading the work of a magnificent writer.  Another favorite, “A Prisoner of the Caucasus” concerns two prisoners who were thrown in a pit.  Though I have only studied Russia up through the Revolution, I found these stories provided rich context for understanding and empathy for the Russian people.  The later stories, while still compelling and readable, were not as touching as the earlier stories.

         I cannot recommend The Tsar of Love and Techno highly enough.  It is a masterpiece and my review does not do it justice.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina

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