The Tsar of Love and Techno

Written by Anthony Marra
Review by Doug Kemp

This is a series of interconnected stories that dwell upon the state of the Soviet Union and Russia. They begin in 1937 with Roman Markin, a party member, and an artist by profession, but now a censor who airbrushes photographs of the increasing cascade of those unfortunates who have been erased from Soviet history and whose lives have been forfeit. He also touches up photographs of the favoured few to make them look younger, including Stalin. He revolts against the system by putting in portraits of his younger brother Vaska, who was seized and “disappeared” by the regime, into doctored photographs. Inevitably, early one morning, there is the arrival of the NKVD to seize Markin. This story is the foundation for the succeeding linked narratives, which also depend upon some fairly eye-opening coincidences, and a grim, surreal humour. The constant shifts in time and characters make it a little difficult to follow the overall thread of the narrative, without having to check back and remember events and relationships from before. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining and well-written novel and provides an insightful commentary into the nature of the USSR and Russia, its fateful history and its people.