The stories in Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno could sturdily stand on their own – but after reading them together you will wish for them never to be separated. I added this book to my 2017 Reading Challenge per a recommendation from book reviewer and blogger FictionFan, who highly recommends the audiobook (I read a physical copy), and I’m so glad I did.
A total of nine stories set primarily in the Soviet Union and Russia take place over a span of about 76 years – from 1937 to 2013, and beyond. For readers who appreciate a cover that coincides with the content of a book, you will be happy to know that the cassette tape on the cover of The Tsar of Love and Techno plays a significant part in the stories.
From a photograph censor under Stalin to a ballerina in the Arctic and a soldier in space, the inter-connectivity of the characters and stories are not always obvious. When they are, there’s a comfortable continuation and when they are not, your breath is taken away from you and goosebumps appear almost immediately.
When she finished, she ran her finger across the broken seal of her daughter’s new letter and placed it in the shoebox along with the others. Everything large enough to love eventually disappoints you, then betrays you, and finally, forgets you. But the things small enough to fit into a shoebox, these stay as they were.
I don’t know too much about the USSR or Russian history, but don’t worry if you are in that same boat – the individuals are what shine in each story. This isn’t to say that the history is not important, but Anthony Marra keeps the characters in the forefront of each tale. Memory, family, relationships, ignorance, survival; humanity and its complications are portrayed in raw ways that are not always easy to stomach, but are honest and conceivable, even for a mid-twenties American female. I will admit that this mid-twenties American female did find a few parts of the beginning stories a little dull, but just a little. Knowing what I know now about the second half of the book, I advise you to pay just as much attention to the first half as you will the second.
‘It’s all there,’ he said in a voice touched with wonder. Nadya knew the sensation, the eeriness of discovering a corresponding point between past and present, of realizing that not all memory is mirage.
Much of The Tsar of Love and Techno is about struggles and cruelty, but combined with those are moments of tenderness and joy, as well as subtle humor (some commentary on the internet and Tom Hanks were particularly entertaining and indisputable). Although I took two months to read it, that had more to do with me reading too many other books at the same time. Anthony Marra writes clearly and the pace is perfect. I can’t wait to get my hands on his New York Times bestseller A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and hope you have the time to pick up The Tsar of Love and Techno.
So another book to check off my 2017 Reading Challenge list. If you would like to read any reviews of The Tsar of Love and Techno I recommend FictionFan’s wonderful review (click here) as well as NPR’s review (click here). If you’ve already read the book, let me know what you thought of it in the comments, and as always, you can view my Reading Challenge progress here. Thanks for stopping by.
I remember photographs of hands painted on cave walls and I sweep my palms across the scored surface. The carvings evidence a past outside the capsule of memory, the only proof that I do not belong to an eternal present tense.