The most vivid character in
The Tsar of Love and Techno…is not a person but a place, specifically the Russian city of Kirovsk, an arctic purgatory of nickel smelting plants, where one out of every two residents contracts lung cancer…Everything about the place reeks of disaster, even the name: Sergei Kirov was a Bolshevik whose assassinationprobably on Stalin's ordersbecame a pretext for the show trials of the 1930s. And since Marra's preoccupation is history, and its ability to both erase and lend meaning to individual lives, Kirovsk is a fitting centerpiece for his audacious, strange and occasionally brilliant book…That it is neither [heavy-handed nor grim] is a testament to Marra's seamless prose, telling use of detail and brisk pacing. The narration throughout is particularly agile…[ The Tsar of Love and Techno] offers so much to enjoy and admire. At a time when a lot of fiction by young American writers veers toward familiar settings and safe formal choices, Marra's far-ranging, risky and explicitly political book marks him as a writer with an original, even singular sensibility. Of course politics alone isn't enough to create art. In writing so evocatively about the harrowing stories of his characters, both Russian and Chechen, Marra brings to mind the novelist Tatyana Tolstaya. "Politics disappears; it vanishes," she told an interviewer. "What remains constant is human life."
The New York Times Book Review - Alex Halberstadt
…extraordinary…Each story is a gem in itself. But the book is greater than its parts, an almost unbearably moving exploration of the importance of love, the pull of family, the uses and misuses of history, and the need to reclaim the past by understanding who you really are and what really happened…Read the stories in order. You'll see how they build on one another. It's as the author has taken a series of transparencies, each containing part of a picture, and carefully laid them on top of one another, layer by layer, so that by the end they make a whole…you'll [marvel] at how artfully Mr. Marra has tied it all together, and how thoroughly he has made us care…He starts this miracle of a book by showing us how a system can erase the past, the truth, even its citizens. He ends by demonstrating, through his courageous, flawed, deeply human characters, how individual people can restore the things that have been taken away. And if you've been worrying that you've lost your faith in the emotionally transformative power of fictionMr. Marra will restore that, too.
The New York Times - Sarah Lyall
Marra follows A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (one of PW’s 10 best books of 2013) with this collection of nine interconnected stories, divided into sides A, B, and intermission. They probe personal facets of Russian life, from 1937 to the present—from Chechnya to Siberia and from labor camp to hillside meadow. In the first story, Roman Markin, a Stalin-era specialist in removing purged individuals from photographs and politically correcting artwork, airbrushes out his own brother, then begins secretly inserting his brother’s face into other pieces, including a photograph with a ballerina he’s erasing and a landscape by 19th-century Chechen painter Zakharov into which he’s adding a party boss. “Granddaughters,” set in the Siberian mining town of Kirovsk, focuses on Galina, the ballerina’s granddaughter. Inheriting her grandmother’s beauty if not her talent, Galina captures the Miss Siberia crown, the attentions of the 14th richest man in Russia, and a movie role in Web of Deceit, while her sweetheart, Kolya, ends up fighting and dying in Chechnya. In “The Grozny Tourist Bureau,” deputy museum director Ruslan Dukorov rescues the Zakharov landscape from war damage, then paints in his wife and child—killed, like Kolya, in the meadow depicted in the painting. The title story follows Kolya’s brother to the meadow. “A Temporary Exhibition” shows Roman’s nephew at the 2013 exhibition of Roman’s work arranged by Ruslan and his second wife. Marra portrays a society built on betrayal, pollution, lies, and bullying, where art, music, fantasy, even survival, can represent quiet acts of rebellion. As in his acclaimed novel, Marra finds in Chechnya an inspiration his for his uniquely funny, tragic, bizarre, and memorable fiction. (Oct.)
American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Family Foundation Prize for Fiction, 2015“[E]xtraordinary… Each story is a gem in itself. But the book is greater than its parts, an almost unbearably moving exploration of the importance of love, the pull of family, the uses and misuses of history, and the need to reclaim the past by understanding who you really are and what really happened…He starts this miracle of a book by showing us how a system can erase the past, the truth, even its citizens. He ends by demonstrating, through his courageous, flawed, deeply human characters, how individual people can restore the things that have been taken away. And if you’ve been worrying that you’ve lost your faith in the emotionally transformative power of fiction – Mr. Marra will restore that, too.” National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist in Fiction Best Fiction Books of 2015 Kirkus Reviews Praise for The Tsar of Love and Techno : -Sarah Lyall, The New York Times “Remarkable…Marra is a gifted writer with the energy and the ambition to explore the lives of characters whose experiences and whose psyches might seem, until we read his work, so distant from our own. Reading his work is like watching the restoration — the reappearance, on the page — of those whom history has erased.” -Francine Prose, Washington Post “This book will burn itself into your heart. It’s a collection of interlocking short stories that stand alone but also fit together, piece by delicate piece, to form an astonishing whole whose artfulness becomes increasingly clear as it goes on. The Tsar of Love and Techno swoops around in time and place, beginning in Stalinist Russia and ending somewhere in outer space in the near future. It’s funny, moving and beautiful, the perfect thing to read.” - New York Times “Audacious… [an] ambitious and fearless [book], one that offers so much to enjoy and admire...Marra’s far-ranging, risky and explicitly political book marks him as a writer with an original, even singular sensibility.” - New York Times Book Review “Genius...what makes this (dare I say) masterpiece so stunning is Marra’s clear love for his subject and insistence on infusing beauty into even the darkest places…It’s nothing short of extraordinary.” - San Francisco Chronicle “Powerful…[an] ingenious book." - Wall Street Journal "Marra’s nine stories, cunningly set out like strewn mosaic tiles that keep self-rearranging until they cohere into a complex, cathartic whole, demand to be read in order...Marra here emerges with an oxygenizing wisdom and an arsenal of wit as inexhaustible as it is unlikely.” - Boston Globe “Dazzling… with its multiple narratives and recurring characters it certainly recalls both Jennifer Egan's "A Visit From the Goon Squad" (a novel) and Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Kitteridge"(short stories). By the time you reach Marra's astonishing final story about Kolya, "The End" — set, a dateline tells us, in "Outer Space, Year Unknown" — the book has achieved a heart-rending cumulative power.” -Tom Beer, Newsday “Like Nabokov, Marra is a writer for whom essential truths are found in detail… The nine interlocking stories grip from the off with their dry tone and meticulously realised worlds of totalitarian life and its aftermath. Characters appear, disappear and reappear throughout the collection, graceful as a troupe of dancers in the author’s assured hands.… His stories have subtle nods to the Russian greats (Chekhov’s gun, the lady with the lapdog) and more overt echoes of the writing of Kafka and Orwell in the tales of totalitarian living.” -The Irish Times "Private acts of dissidence (a smuggled mix tape, say) become heroic in Anthony Marra's era-spanning portrait of the USSR." -Megan O'Grady, Vogue “Cobbled together as a sort of mixtape itself (with four stories under “Side A,” four under “Side B,” and a single-story intermission), Marra’s latest work is tender, touching, haunting at times and humorous at others—in short, a feat.” -Thomas Harlander, Los Angeles Magazine “The Tsar of Love and Techno is inventively structured, emotionally resonant, superbly rendered.” -Jane Ciabattari, BBC.com “The Tsar of Love and Techno is an intricately structured and powerful collection[and] showcases Marra’s wit and his gift for unforgettable details… The Tsar of Love and Techno is the work of an elegant and generous writer.” -Bookpage "Some books are love at first read, and this is one of them. Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, delivers his first collection of intimately tied stories (it kind of reads as a novel, actually), arranged into Side A and B and Intermission. With language as precise as a razor blade, Tsartakes us throughout Russia from 1937 to the present with a connected group of characters who, through their explosive escapades, demonstrate the peculiarities and nuances of life. It has everything: humor, action, suspense, drama — I'm going to go ahead and call it brilliant." -Meredith Turits, Bustle.com "Marra, in between bursts of acidic humor, summons the terror, polluted landscapes, and diminished hopes of generations of Russians in a tragic and haunting collection." -Booklist (starred) "With generosity of spirit and a surprising dash of humor, these artfully woven narratives coalesce into a majestic whole." -Library Journal (starred) “Powerful…strikingly reimagines a nearly a century of changes in Russia. [T]he book’s brilliance and humor are laced with the somber feeling that the country is allergic to evolution." -Kirkus Reviews (starred) “As in his acclaimed novel, Marra finds in Chechnya an inspiration for his uniquely funny, tragic, bizarre, and memorable fiction.” -Publishers Weekly (starred) "Love and betrayal reverberate through these nine deftly linked stories... With this collection, Marra has created a stunning portrait of a place and its indelible inhabitants." - Dawn Raffel, More “We know we are in the realm of fiction, but Marra makes it all feel viscerally real. He has mined modern Russian history for all it is worth to create a masterful novel.” -Russian Life Magazine “Treat yourself to these wise works of art set in Siberia, the USSR, and the heart.” -Refinery29
Love and war, loyalty and betrayal, are themes inextricably joined in the literary imagination. Marra, who dazzled readers and critics with his debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, once again captivates with this collection of stories spanning 75 years. Linked by generations of political rebels, artists, soldiers, and criminals, these tales pay homage to the victims of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the resulting wars in Chechnya. It's a time when brother turns on brother, children on parents, coworkers on each other. History is rewritten by the victors and trust is a word without meaning. Yet from this darkness Marra creates characters full of love, repentance, and even hope. A man sells a valued painting in order to finance a blind woman's surgery. A husband, facing the imminent death of his wife from cancer, takes his family on holiday to a contaminated lake where people swim with rebellious joy. An artist who turned his brother in to the authorities assuages his guilt by surreptitiously sketching that brother's likeness onto each canvas he censors for the government. VERDICT Marra's numerous awards (the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award, the Whiting Award, the Pushcart Prize) were no fluke. With generosity of spirit and a surprising dash of humor, these artfully woven narratives coalesce into a majestic whole. [See Prepub Alert, 4/6/15.]—Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL
Communists, oligarchs, and toxic landscapes from Siberia to Chechnya define this collection of tightly linked stories from Marra (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, 2013). In fact, let's go ahead and call it a novel: though the individual stories bounce around in time and are told in different voices, they share a set of characters and have a clear narrative arc. More importantly, they share a command of place and character that strikingly reimagines nearly a century of changes in Russia. In the opener, "The Leopard," a communist censor in 1937 secretly inserts his disappeared brother's face in the photos he retouches—a fact that re-emerges in later stories and also serves as a symbol for how what's lost in Russia never quite disappears. (An oil painting of a bland Chechnyan landscape plays a similar role.) From there, the story moves to chilly Kirovsk, a cancer-ridden industrial town that's struggled to adjust to the fall of Communism, and hometown of Galina, a middling actress who's risen to fame thanks to her marriage with Russia's 13th wealthiest man. In Chechnya, we meet her childhood boyfriend, Kolya, who's been taken prisoner after becoming a soldier. Marra's Russia is marked by both interconnection and darkly comic irony; Kolya's stint in captivity is "the most serene of his adult life," while elsewhere a man is roped into trying to sell mine-ridden Grozny as a tourist destination. ("For inspiration, I studied pamphlets from the tourist bureaus of other urban hellscapes: Baghdad, Pyongyang, Houston.") As in his previous novel, Marra is deft at managing different characters at different points in time, but the book's brilliance and humor are laced with the somber feeling that the country is allergic to evolution: KGB thugs then, drug dealers and Internet scammers now, with a few stray moments of compassion in between. A powerful and melancholy vision of a nation with long memories and relentless turmoil.