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The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

tsar of love and techno

I have started 2016 on a good note with the completion of my first 2016 read: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. Find out why it was so good and let us know how the start of your reading year is going.  

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
First Published in: 2015
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 5 stars (and a favorite)
Find it/buy it here: The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book by crown publishing and netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book! I wanted to tear through it quickly while simultaneously hoping for it to never end. What better way to start the new year than with a wonderful book? The Tsar of Love and Techno is Anthony Marra’s second book and was released in October of 2015. Having put off reading his first novel (because I don’t usually end up liking overhyped books), I had no expectations about this one. However, I needed a break from the very slow going A Brief History of Seven Killings which I have been reading for two months. And once I picked this one up, I couldn’t put it down – thus delaying Marlon James’ book yet again.

The Tsar of Love and Techno is a brilliantly written and emotionally touching collection of stories about family sacrifice, the devastation of war, and the importance of art. It is written as a series of short stories (in fact the novel is called a story collection) but these stories ultimately are all connected to give the reader the feel of a novel rather than a story collection. Stories are organized structurally like a cassette tape with a side A, and intermission, and a side B. Like any collection of music, the stories are mixed: some funny, some sad, some romantic, and some frenetic and violent. They are all set in Russia and together span a period 75 years covering a vast array of very different characters.

The book begins with the story of Roman Markin, a censor in the Department of Propaganda and agitation, whose job it is to blot out the faces of the condemned in newspaper photos and works of art. Roman touches up two images that become central to the rest of the book: a photo of a prima ballerina and an oil painting of a local landscape by a 19th century Chechen painter. Roman becomes haunted by the image of the ballerina and he finds himself unable to fully delete her, leaving her disembodied hand — an action that will lead to bad consequences for him later on.

Subsequent stories all spring from the first story in a rather complex web of connections with art being one central thread that joins the various characters. The whole collection is like a giant puzzle that comes together beautifully to illustrate the importance of family, the tragedy of war, and the ways in which art can transcend war.

Over the course of the collection we follow the lives of various people including Galina, the granddaughter of the prima ballerina who Roman was entrusted in deleting from the image, her teenage sweetheart who is sent to fight in Chechnya, a museum director who ends up in charge of the oil landscape mentioned in chapter one, a mail-order bride and her mother, the brother of Galina’s teenage sweetheart, and the great-nephew of Roman Markin. The story of each character is intertwined with the stories of other characters. As we move through time, we get to see how both betrayals and acts of kindness end up impacting the lives of future generations. The final chapters are especially touching as they return full circle to the actions that took place in chapter one.

The novel could have been either very gimmicky or pretentious but it was neither. It was beautifully written and the connections came together in subtle ways that never felt heavy handed. The writing was lyrical, dazzling, and covered the full emotional spectrum. I shed tears, I laughed, and I felt inspired and uplifted. In some ways, the collection reminded me of David Mitchell’s work (so no small wonder I loved it) but with less crossing over of genres.

Who will like this book? Fans of David Mitchell, historical fiction lovers, and those who enjoy complex stories with lyrical writing will all enjoy this book. I highly recommend this book!

Here are some quotes of my favorite quotes:

To look closely at a face it to open yourself to the possibility of mercy. If criminals drew the faces of their victims before perpetrating their crime and judges drew the faces of the guilty before sentencing them, then there would be no faces for executioners to draw

For art to be the chisel that breaks the marble inside us, the artist must first become the hammer.

How could Soviet jurisprudence remain infallible if it failed to recognize innocence? Some held on to the misbelief as they stood pressed against one another in train cars heading east across the Siberia Steppe, the names of previous prisoners haunting the carriage walls in smudged chalk. Some still held on to it as they were shoved aboard barges and steamed north on the Yenisei. But when they disembarked onto the glassy tundra, their illusion burned away in the glare of the endless summer sun. In the distant cities, they were expurgated from their own histories. In photographs, they donned India ink masks. We never knew them, but we are the proof they existed.

Despite inheriting her grandmother’s beautiful figure, Galina danced with the subtlety of a spooked ostrich.

Turning I would to I did is the grammar of growing up.

As a teenager, she’d imagined love to be a flare sparkling upward, unzipping the night sky. What she had with Ruslan gave off a warmth nearer to friendship than romance. That was fine with her. Better the dim heat of a hand in yours than all the fire in the sky.

Nadya knew the sensation, the eeriness of discovering a corresponding point between past and present, of realizing that not all memory is mirage.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find your copy here: The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories

We want to hear from you. Have you read this book? What did you think? If not, you really need to read it. Have you read his debut novel? 

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I just bought this book because of all of the raving reviews I keep hearing (in real life and online). So glad you liked it! I heard that there was a soundtrack on soundcloud to accompany the book. Did you listen to it at all?

    Brief History also took me a few weeks to read but I think that made me enjoy it all the more. It’s not a book meant to be rushed through. Hope you enjoy it!

    Liked by 1 person

    January 4, 2016
    • I didn’t listen to it while reading but do plan to check it out because I heard an interview in NPR where Marra talked about it.

      I do like A Brief History. I’m almost done with it. The first half was almost excruciatingly slow going for me but once I got used to the style it became easier. The level of violence combined with the slag made it hard for me to want to read I more than a few pages at a time but it is worth it. I may post the review tomorrow if time permits.


      January 4, 2016
  2. JoLene R #

    Now I’m excited to get this one. I don’t normally like short story, but this sounds interesting. His first book, The Constellation of Vital Phenomena, was my surprise favorite of last year. I didn’t have any expectations but I loved it —- similar feeling of wanting to rush through, but never wanting it to end.

    Liked by 1 person

    January 4, 2016
    • I don’t like short stories either but these stories are so intertwined that they don’t read like separate stories. I think you will like this one!


      January 4, 2016

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  1. January Monthly Recap | The Reader's Room
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