$25.00ISBN: 9780770436438Availability: On Our Shelves NowPublished: Hogarth - October 6th, 2015
The Tsar of Love and Techno, the title story of Anthony Marra’s stunning collection, begins dead-center in the book’s 300+ pages. Which is appropriate since it connects the book’s disparate pieces into one dazzling whole. Suddenly you realize what you’re reading is more novel than collection, a sweeping tale of Russian history’s cruel ironies and the incandescence of memory.
In the first tale, which takes place in 1937, Roman, a failed portraitist, has become not only a loyal Stalinist but a professional assassin—not by killing those proven to be disloyal (a fate in the end suffered by most, his brother, among others) but by expunging their images from all paintings and photographs. Roman’s guilt at his brother’s death is such that after receiving a painting of a doomed dancer he must airbrush out of existence, and begins replacing the faces of those he’s supposed to remove with that of his dead brother. Betrayal begets betrayal in Stalinist Russia, and our censor is arrested, tried, convicted in a Kafkaesque—or more accurately Stalinesque—trial, leaving behind, among many others, a painting he’s altered by one of Russia’s most famous artists.
The next tale, “The Granddaughters,” is a kind of Greek chorus of village gossip in which the image that doomed our painter is brought to life in the form of a dancer and her progeny, and we are introduced, albeit unwittingly, to each of the characters whose intersecting lives people this amazing book from 1937 forward to the era of technology—whether in Kirovsk, high above the Arctic Circle, St. Petersburg, or Chechnya. At its heart are star-crossed lovers whose fates are woven from tale to tale and into our hearts; the love of brothers; and of mothers and fathers. If there is betrayal it is that of the state in a story with the breadth and scope of the finest literature, the simplicity of truth and feeling that runs as deep as the human heart. Breathtaking and brilliant.