My boss brought me this book to borrow a few months ago. I had to tell her that I had already bought it but hadn’t read it. This sort of thing annoys her—wasting paper and money (in that order) on multiple copies of the same book being purchased in the same circle of book readers. But on the day that she brought it in to work I promised that I would read it ASAP. So I did. I read a recently released paperback. That never happens. And she was right. I really liked it. It was great. It was totally a 21st century interconnected novella multiple perspective nightmare that Bethany would make fun of. But I think it was really well done despite the cliché. I read Anthony Marra’s first novel (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena) a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, so I was primed to think that this was a good book.
So where to begin? The stories in the novel revolve around a nineteenth century painting, Empty Pasture in Afternoon, and the people who come in contact with it. The painter was a Chechen artist named Zakharov. I tried to find this painting online but couldn’t, which makes me think it might not actually exist (also one book blogger posted that it was fictional, and since I can’t find it, I’m inclined to believe her). Zakharov is real, however. Anyway. The timeline of the book is 1937 – 2013, with one story that takes place in outer space in an unknown year. That one was a little bizarre, much like the last chapter of A God in Ruins, but I’m nowhere near getting to write about that book yet, so that’s all I’m going to say. Zakharov is never a character in the novel, and most of the characters are from Kirovsk, a Siberian mining town that has seen better days by the time we get there. How a group of Siberians gets involved with a Chechen painting is actually quite fascinating. We also do spend time in Chechyna, but it isn’t the primary locale.
Each story in the novel is self-contained, but they do build on each other, and the total effect is greater than the sum of its parts. We first meet the painting in 1937 when an artist in the employ of Stalin’s government (his name is Markin) comes across Empty Pasture in Afternoon in the course of his job as a censor who modifies artwork to make it more appealing to the powers that be. He ends up on the wrong side of the powers that be at the end, and I don’t think I need to state outright what happened to Russians who ran afoul of Stalin in the years leading up to World War II. After we meet Markin, we jump ahead to the post-war years and into what I consider the present day (i.e. years that I remember happening), and to Kirovsk and Galina and Kolya and his brother Alexei, among others. Galina and Kolya are the star-crossed lovers of the novel, and Alexei is the lost and wandering baby brother of Kolya. Kolya is killed during the Chechen war, and Galina marries some rich guy. Kolya is killed in the field depicted in the painting, and Galina gets the rich guy to buy the painting from the Grozny Tourist Bureau (which is one man working out of his apartment), and then Alexei ends up with it.
I don’t want to do a ton of plot summary here because The Tsar of Love and Techno is actually fairly plot-driven, and to give too much away might be doing a disservice to the people who will read it later.
And I’m spent. I’ve been working on this post for probably three months and I am just done. I loved this book and am never going to do it justice. Read it! And tell me what you think about it in the comments.