Julie Christine's Reviews > The Tsar of Love and Techno

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1213607
's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: shorts, best-of-2015, east-central-europe, read-2015, war-conflict

Yesterday in a bookstore, I saw a customer holding Jess Walter's remarkable 2013 short story collection, We Live in Water. We got to chatting about this favorite author and I waxed enthusiastic about the book. The man flipped through its pages and said, "Oh. No. These are short stories. I want a book." He set it aside and wandered away. I died a little inside.

Imagine missing astonishing writing and gripping narrative simply because a world is contained ten or twenty pages instead of three hundred. I get that short form is not everyone's cuppa. But when I find an author who rocks my literary world, I want to devour everything s/he produces; their words are a gift, a revelation. And short stories demand something entirely different from writers and readers. A great short story is like the perfect pop song that stays with you through the decades, compared to the symphony of which you can remember only the highlights.

Anthony Marra, who blew my mind in 2013 with A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, has produced the ideal mixtape of a short story collection with The Tsar of Love and Techno. These are stories that stand on their own, like lone pine in the tundra, yet each references back to the dense forest from which it came, a forest of history, personal and political. The dual settings of Kirovsk, a Siberian mining city that is propped up by its own industrial waste, and a verdant mine-laced field in rural Chechnya, are characters in themselves, more than backdrops to these interrelated stories of choice, chance, history, and fate.

Marra returns us to the claustrophobic terror of Soviet Russia and Stalin's purges, where a child's careless words can send a mother to prison, an uncle to his death, where an art restorer must eliminate evidence of subversion from paintings yet manages to score some subversion of his own. We meet the children and grandchildren of those who survived (or not) Siberia's labor camps and prisons, young people born into glasnost and a Russia where the rich measure their wealth in billions, fueled by corruption, drugs and guns. Many of those guns end up in Chechnya, where the sons of Kirovsk become contract soldiers, but terror still reigns at home, and careless words can still kill.

The author connects these stories not only through characters, but with objects—a painting, an unplayed mixtape, a redacted photograph of a ballerina, a movie that made a one-hit wonder of a former Miss Siberia—and place—an artificial forest on the edge of Kirovsk, where wolves prowl between aluminum trees shedding plastic leaves; an idyllic field made deadly with land mines. If this all sounds grim, it is. These circumstances and the lives forced to live them are brutal. Yet Marra's characters are luminous, his language transcendent, his pacing taut. I was propelled from one page to the next, shocked, saddened, laughing, gasping. Hoping.

Just as in his tour-de-force debut novel about the wars in Chechnya, A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, Marra draws us into largely unfamiliar, complex worlds, but his presentation is so deft that I was never bewildered by what I didn't know. Only awed and delighted by this writer's ambition and skill. A book, indeed.
185 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Tsar of Love and Techno.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

August 16, 2015 – Shelved
August 16, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
October 23, 2015 – Started Reading
October 23, 2015 – Shelved as: shorts
October 24, 2015 –
page 53
15.96%
October 25, 2015 –
page 113
34.04% "'Over the following weeks, I designed a brochure. The central question was how to trick tourists into coming to Grozny voluntarily. I studied pamphlets from the tourist bureaus of other urban hellscapes: Baghdad, Pyongyang, Houston.'\n \n from 'The Grozny Tourist Bureau'"
October 26, 2015 –
page 149
44.88% ""When he's exhausted all other memories, he thinks of home. The lake of industrial runoff ringed by gravel where one summer he had sunbathed with his mother and younger brother, pretending they were on a Black Sea vacation.""
October 27, 2015 –
page 223
67.17% "'The pressed together with a need that is never satisfied because we can't trade atoms no matter how hard we thrust. Our hearts may skip but our substance remains fixed. We're not gaseous no matter how we wish to cloud together inseparably.'"
October 28, 2015 – Shelved as: best-of-2015
October 28, 2015 – Shelved as: east-central-europe
October 28, 2015 – Shelved as: read-2015
October 28, 2015 – Shelved as: war-conflict
October 28, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-30 of 30 (30 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Bill (new)

Bill Well written Julie! I haven't read many short stories over the years but you've motivated me to take a peek :)


message 2: by Glenn (new)

Glenn Sumi Wow. Beautiful review, Julie. I find describing story collections so hard, but you truly capture the tone and range and style of the book - all in your own transcendent language.


Julie Christine Bill wrote: "Well written Julie! I haven't read many short stories over the years but you've motivated me to take a peek :)"

Thank you, Bill. The beauty of interconnected stories is the chance to re-meet characters, to get different perspectives on the same events- you almost think you're reading a novel... :)


Julie Christine Glenn wrote: "Wow. Beautiful review, Julie. I find describing story collections so hard, but you truly capture the tone and range and style of the book - all in your own transcendent language."

Glenn, you are so kind-thank you! I know! Story collections are so hard to encapsulate- I liked this one, but not that one, etc. Marra's work felt like glimpses of a whole. He is just so amazing.


message 5: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne Julie, have you read Adam Johnson's new collection, Fortune Smiles? It's on my TBR list. His novel, The Orphan Master's Son, was amazing!


message 6: by Trish (last edited Oct 28, 2015 09:45AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Trish Your comment about how a short story is "like a perfect pop song" reminds me of an essay in Mohsin Hamid's latest collection of essays, Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London, Hamid discusses slim novels that can be read again and again in a lifetime, bringing something different each time.

This collection is so spectacular for its breadth of inclusion, and its interlocking story pieces. It is truly a marvelous, memorable work that brings us so close to the humanity in Russia and Chechnya, all with humor and grace.


Connie Julie, you've written a fabulous review of one of the best short story collections I've read.


message 8: by Maureen (new)

Maureen Wow- this sounds great! Thank you for bringing this to our (my) attention!


Iris P Julie, I absolutely adore your review. By now I have lost count of how many times I've had this conversation about how magnificent short fiction can be.
Admittedly, I myself was recently one of those skeptical readers that would disregard most short fiction writing.
I am glad to say that 2015 was the year that brought an awakening to this wonderful genre.

Some of my most satisfying reading experiences this year have come from short fiction, to name a few, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, The Bigness of the World, and my very favorite The Wonder Garden.

Very much looking forward to discovering Anthony Marra and some of that great writing you describe in your review.


Julie Christine Jeanne wrote: "Julie, have you read Adam Johnson's new collection, Fortune Smiles? It's on my TBR list. His novel, The Orphan Master's Son, was amazing!" oh, there was the best interview with him a few weeks ago on NPR and I meant to put Fortune Smiles on my TPR list. I haven't read The Orphan Master's Son, but I need to!


Angela M Julie , thanks for a great review . Short stories are usually not my cuppa either but I read and loved this because of how much I love Marra's writing. It was the same for me when I recently read Colum McCann's Thirteen Ways of Looking. I couldn't agree with you more.


Julie Christine Trish wrote: "Your comment about how a short story is "like a perfect pop song" reminds me of an essay in Mohsin Hamid's latest collection of essays, [book:Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahor..."

I just read your review and added Hamid's book to my list. If the book is half as beautiful as your review, it will be a winner.

Must seek out some interviews with Marra to see if he discusses how he conceived of the pieces that made the whole of Tsar. The connections are extraordinary in their elegance and depth.


Julie Christine Connie wrote: "Julie, you've written a fabulous review of one of the best short story collections I've read."
Oh Connie, thank you!


Julie Christine Maureen wrote: "Wow- this sounds great! Thank you for bringing this to our (my) attention!" Maureen, definitely read A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon if you haven't already; it's incredible.


Julie Christine Iris wrote: "Julie, I absolutely adore your review. By now I have lost count of how many times I've had this conversation about how magnificent short fiction can be.
Admittedly, I myself was recently one of tho..."


xoxo Iris! I just added The Wonder Garden to my TBR list. Sounds like something I would love.


Julie Christine Angela M wrote: "Julie , thanks for a great review . Short stories are usually not my cuppa either but I read and loved this because of how much I love Marra's writing. It was the same for me when I recently read C..."

I do have to be in the mood-and I love interconnected collections-but a good short story can just blow my mind. Magical. I've got Colum McCann's on my list, for sure!


Suzanne Sweet sounding review! Applause as always.
I think Constellation might be my favorite book ever. Marra is a magician. The thing is, I knew this was short stories, but quickly didn't. The names, since War and Peace,...I always ignore the names in Russian books and know the characters by, knowing the characters . I know that it jumped around from time to time, place to place and person to person, but it was just "Russians" struggle whether it was Chechnyans or Siberians, now or then, Kolya or Serai. Life has only gotten marginally better. Corruption still rules. Love is always there, it's always so difficult. Great book.


Julie Christine Suzanne wrote: "Sweet sounding review! Applause as always.
I think Constellation might be my favorite book ever. Marra is a magician. The thing is, I knew this was short stories, but quickly didn't. The names, sin..."


Constellation still resonates. I am in awe of his skills, his empathy! Thank you for the wonderful comment, Suzanne.


message 19: by Dirk (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dirk Very nicely done. I'll second Jeanne's recommendation of Adam Johnson's collection, Fortune Smiles, another master of people and places foreign to me but absolutely alive on the page.


Julie Christine Dirk wrote: "Very nicely done. I'll second Jeanne's recommendation of Adam Johnson's collection, Fortune Smiles, another master of people and places foreign to me but absolutely alive on the page."

Dirk, thank you! I've got Fortune Smiles in my TBR list and a purchase request in at the library. So looking forward to the read.


Angela I loved "We live in Water" and am currently re- reading " A Constellation" because it really is THAT good. I am on the waiting list for Marra's latest at the library. Don't you just love his titles, too?


Julie Christine Angela wrote: "I loved "We live in Water" and am currently re- reading " A Constellation" because it really is THAT good. I am on the waiting list for Marra's latest at the library. Don't you just love his titles..."

YES! They are little poems! :)


message 23: by Lara (new) - added it

Lara Thanks for a beautiful review


message 24: by Rebecca (new) - added it

Rebecca I love this review. And I can second the lament about people who don't read short stories. I know quite a few of those readers. I learned in my two MFA programs that publishers almost never take short fiction or essay collections from new writers because they don't sell as well as book-length works. When I met with agents, they all told me they will not work with short story writers as aa rule. It's such shame, because we are neglecting the shining artistry of short stories.


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks for putting into words my feelings for this book. Perhaps you should be writing a book!


message 26: by Margitte (new)

Margitte Absolutely brilliant review! You leave me totally awed, Julie.


Tessa (FutureAuthor23) Agh. I must admit I'm guilty of doing the same thing when it comes to short stories! I must change this. 2017 New Year's Resolution I guess? ;)


message 28: by Lucy C (new) - added it

Lucy C Lane Your review was as beautifully written as the book! I just read Constellation and this in succession on the recommendation of a friend. I am smitten. Thanks for encapsulating the stories so well.


Marcia What a great review.  I just finished reading this and I am so overwhelmed... I cried, I laughed, I was so absorbed in the stories that I hurt. These characters stayed with me; I could not stop thinking about them in between stories. I'm not much of a writer or reviewer,  but yours were the words that I would say if I could. (And, btw,  I also loved "We Live In Water",  and anything by Jess Walter.)


message 30: by Ron (new) - rated it 1 star

Ron Bad writing and pure propaganda. It's honestly one of the worst books ever published and this dipshit with no education has snowed over the vast unwashed (i.e. uneducated) masses...


back to top