|The Tsar of Love and Techno
"I am an artist first, a censor second."
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.
This is another book that has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust from Book Expo America this year (and I'm killing myself for that). I'm always a little reluctant to pick up a short story collection because I don't usually "LOVE" them, only like (or really like). So this was quite a surprise, as you can see by my rating of five stars, I loved this one. I loved his debut book, "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" and this one is just as fantastic and tear jerking. Speaking of tears... this one got me pretty bad. I'm not one to cry much and this is the second book in a year to have made me cry ("A Little Life" was the other one). This is also the very first time I've cried over a short story collection. Although, calling this short stories is something I wouldn't do. I'm actually surprised the publisher and/or Author decided to do this, seeing as many readers shy away from them. I would probably put this more under a collection of stories that make a novel (very David Mitchell).
Each "story" is told from various characters in the same world, each with a voice to turn a cold, bleak setting into something relatable. So much is written about 1930s Soviet Russia, the best was being able to view the world from the eyes of characters you would never imagine. One of my favorites being the Soviet censor, who has the heart of an artist but has to suppress that talent and use it in a very dark way. This story starts all the others which connect through family, friends, the passing of someone on the sidewalk. Everything joins, which is why I think it's unfair for the book to be typecast as a short story collection when it is so much more. You get to know this world, the characters, and the interconnecting stories so well that it elicits emotion, strong emotion. I don't want to go into detail because this would spoil the journey for you, rather I would just push this into your hands and make sure you gave it a shot. For those of you who haven't read Marra... pick up one of these books, he is fast becoming an Author to admire and watch. I know I will be waiting (not so patiently) for his next book. I should also give a shout out to the amazing Tournament of Books collaborators for picking this one to be included. I can't wait to shout along from the sidelines, between this one and A Little Life... ugh, it'll be hard to choose.
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