From the New York Times bestselling author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena–dazzling, poignant, and lyrical interwoven stories about family, sacrifice, the legacy of war, and the redemptive power of art.
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.
Since stumbling across B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories last year, I’ve become increasingly more interested in collections of short fiction. As a novelist, I’m fascinated with the depth and gravity short fiction writers are able to convey in such a small space. I’ve only ever written a handful of short pieces that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to share with the world, so I stand in mythic awe of those who are able to pull the form off over and over again.
This collection captured my attention first with the title, and second with the fabulous cover. I’m sure you agree that both are quite beautiful in their own right. But believe me, the title and the cover don’t even begin to convey the magnificence of the words found within. Anthony Marra’s stories, while able to stand on their own, weave a continuous tale guaranteed to simultaneously disappoint and uplift. The first half, labelled “Side A,” is heartbreaking, and “Side B,” while not exactly light-hearted, will leave you filled with hope for the future.
These stories hinge on the rise, duration, and fall of the Soviet Union. With the popularity of dystopian literature ever on the rise, it’s more important than ever that stories like these be written, read, and dwelt upon. These stories are fictional, yes, but these horrific things really did happen to more people than you or I could count. People really were jailed for no reason. They were imprisoned in concentration camps, worked to the bone, starved, tortured, raped, killed, buried in mass graves, and erased from public record. Neither Big Brother nor the Capitol were the instigators of these atrocities. No, they were perpetrated by real flesh and blood people, just like you and me, who made the choice to disregard the sanctity of human life. It’s important for us to think of these things not just as the thrilling stuff of fiction, but as horrific echoes of the past. We must strive to prevent them from happening again.
Anthony Marra’s writing style is flawless and heartrending. I found it humorous that one of his characters wanted to be a professional aphorist, for I believe that is truly what Mr. Marra is himself. With lines like “To look closely at a face is to open yourself to the possibility of mercy” and “We constantly became people we would later regret having been” and “Her generation had journeyed through hell so we could grow up in purgatory,” it’s clear he has a gift for breathtaking, mind-bending prose. I’m looking forward to reading his novel, as well as any future works.
Recommended for: Everyone. Seriously, this is one of those pieces everyone should read. I’d say this is rated R for violence, disturbing situations, language, and talk of sex, so don’t hand it over to your sixth grader, but…yeah. Everyone should read this. What are you waiting for? Go now.
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.