———————–Review contains spoilers————————
The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories by Anthony Marra is a collection of some heartbreaking and some inspiring stories that stretches across a wide variety of characters spanning from a man working as a media censor in 1930s Russia to a heartbroken brother, a restoration artist, and someone familiar to the censor in 2013 Russia all connected by a house on a hill and a painting.
I did enjoy the stories overall once I was able to start realizing just how they all came together. Even though some of the characters stories were short, I was able to feel for most of them and I could feel sympathy for the situations they had to live through and the pain they had to endure as well as feel joy for those who were able to find answers and closure and for those who were able to grow up.
The book gives you a good feel for the character’s personalities and how they present themselves to others. It also does a fantastic job of letting you just what the characters strengths and weakness are. The character development was very well done.
However, the cast of characters in this novel is almost overwhelming. You are constantly traveling from past to present and between different characters as you are reading. The chapter set up is also seems really inconsistent to me.
I also felt that some of the actions taken in the stories could have been taken in a different direction. For instance, there were two sections in the book that almost completely threw me off and for a while I wasn’t interested in reading more.
You have two characters, Kolya and Danilo, who are both in the military. They are driving and their vehicles engine dies and they are forced to continue on foot. They are lost and wandering around in rebel territory.
Discrete packets of panic burst in Kolya each time the wind shifts the grass, or the shadow of a bird cuts over the ground. He focuses on his breathing to delay an oncoming anxiety attack. Over the past year he’s developed a deep mistrust of open spaces and now can’t cross anything wider than a doorframe without wondering if he’s walking into a sniper’s scope.
When they reach the tree line, Danilo snaps up his arm with tight-lipped alarm.
“Devil,” Kolya mutters, cuffing Danilo on the shoulder. “You’ll give me a heart attack before the rebels ever get me.”
“Oh no,” Danilo says. His face, often formed of diagonals–slanted eyebrows, sneered lips, sloped cheeks that together resemble a crudely drawn demon–completely wilts.
“Fuck off,” Kolya says.
“It won’t be a heart attack.” Danilo nods into the forest, where Kolya catches sight of a dozen rebels gathered around the remains of a campfire. They hold their rifles in their right hands, bowls of kasha in their left, apparently alerted by Danilo’s flatulence. Twelve barrels stare up at Kolya, and the fear that had loosened its grip in his chest since he crossed the field now crushes his heart with both hands.
Now, within this book, some of the characters meet very tragic fates and having already been through some of those incidents, for a fart to trigger a band of rebels causing the two to be captured seemed a little insane to me. I would imagine something more like stepping on a twig or dried leaves to alert the enemy, not flatulence.
The second incident is after the two have been captured and given to a man to help him rebuild the house and land that connects the characters. They have been working daily and treated fairly considering they were prisoners of war. However, they are forced to sleep in a hole meant for dead bodies every night with no companionship but each other. Kolya finally gets an erection and asks Danilo if he has any pictures of his wife that he could use to mastrubate to.
Nope, but I still got that picture of your mom in the leopard-print bikini,” DAnilo says.
Kolya looks to the pyramid in his lap. His dick feels like the densest of all his calcium-starved bones. It’s been so long since he’s seen a woman that any would do. Danilo passes Kolya the wrinkled photograph, still folded so Kolya and his younger brother are out of view. Kolya shakes his head. If someone had told him he’d one day be living in a pit and jerking off to a photograph of his mother, well, he’d probably have tried harder in school. In fact, he’d rethink just about all the choices he’d made if only to ensure access to a clean bed and some decent pornography.
“No, shame to it,” Danilo says, seeing Kolya’s hesitation. “The ancient Greeks were always trying to fuck their own mothers. And those sickos invented civilization.”
For a moment Kolya feels so far gone he could do it. But he’s two hundred clicks from anywhere he’d call civilization and the moment passes.
As much as characters are built up in this book and as close as you can feel to them sometimes, this is really the only time there is any specific description of sexual activity and I just didn’t understand why it needed to be in there and why it was written that he would come close to mastrubating to a photo of his mother. Especially when later on it’s learned that he was engaged at one point and could have had a picture of his ex-fiancee to do this to rather than his mother. I just feel it was a bit crude for what was going on and for the way Kolya’s story ends anyway.
Overall, I would say this book is a good read for anyone into Russian history and for anyone that can handle stories with many, many characters and that jumps around a lot. However, it was not for me sadly. I completed the book and I enjoyed a lot of the stories but there were some that were hard for me to really get into and I felt the ending was farfetched and didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
About the Author:
ANTHONY MARRA is the author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013), which won the National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John Leonard Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction, the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, and appeared on over twenty year-end lists. Marra’s novel was a National Book Award long list selection as well as a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and France’s Prix Medicis. He received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where he teaches as the Jones Lecturer in Fiction. He has lived and studied in Eastern Europe, and now resides in Oakland, California. His story collection, The Tsar of Love and Techno, is forthcoming from Hogarth (Fall 2015).
Taken from: Penguin Random House
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.