A Review of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad

cover image of underground railroad

The greatest trick Colson Whitehead ever pulled was convincing this bookblogger that he had written a realistic novel.

Yes, yes, I know that the fact the railroad in this novel is a literal series of tracks running under the nineteenth-century United States is revealed on the book jacket. I read the jacket before I read the book, I think, but this is Colson Whitehead. When he publishes a new book, I don’t ask questions. I just read.

The first sixty pages of this novel read like a fictionalized version of one of the well-known slave narratives: one by Frederick Douglass or Harriet Jacobs or Solomon Northrup. Cora is orphaned, so to speak, when her mother, Mabel, escapes from the plantation, and she is sent to live in “the Hob,” a cabin in the slave quarter in which slave women live when they do not fit in anywhere else. The other women in the Hob do things like foam at the mouth and keen unconsolably – essentially, they are women so traumatized by slavery that they have stopped functioning and even the threats of punishment within the slave system can’t shock them into self-control. Cora is in the Hob partly because she became a pariah of sorts when her mother escaped but also because she chopped up a doghouse built by a new, powerful slave named Blake because Blake had chosen to build the doghouse on the plot of land Cora had long used to grow some vegetables and potatoes.

Now let’s wait for a minute here. Doghouses? Gardens? Was I tricked even more than I thought I was? I know that slaves on rice plantations in South Carolina and north Georgia maintained gardens to grow their food because they were not given food by their masters – but since Cora is the only slave who seems to care about her (or any) garden, this plantation does not seem to be one on which slaves were responsible for their own upkeep. And a doghouse? This plantation looks suspiciously like something out of an L.L. Bean catalog. Is this one of Whitehead’s games? Was he messing with me from the beginning, long before the Hogwarts Express pulled up to a station far underneath the southern U.S. to chug Cora off to points north? Let’s consider this question as we proceed.

As I said, the first sixty or so pages of this novel – Cora’s life on the plantation and her escape with a fellow slave named Caesar – felt realistic to me. When the Underground Railroad takes them to South Carolina (yes, South Carolina), a new chapter begins in which Cora has a new name (Bessie) and identity and is working as a valued nanny and housekeeper for a white family. She is paid for her work, and at the end of the day she goes home to a dorm created especially for ex-slaves. She is looked over by a white housemother figure named Miss Lucy, who corrects the ex-slaves’ grammar and generally treats them with solicitous condescension. Soon it becomes clear that this safe haven for runaway slaves expects a specific kind of payment: the ex-slaves are expected to submit to sterilization. No one is forced, but after Cora resists the efforts of Miss Lucy a couple of times, she is beset with other well-meaning white authority figures who smile sympathetically while explaining how much happier she will be if she just visits the doctor for this one simple procedure. I know that one of the sticking points in the anti-slavery debate in the 1800’s was the question of where ex-slaves would go and what they would do as free agents in the larger economy. It’s never stated outright, but apparently in this alternate history, South Carolina hopes to solve this problem by making it a temporary one, by making sure the descendants of African slaves do not survive in their state past the current generation.

Cora and Caesar spend considerable time in South Carolina, but eventually they choose to let the Underground Railroad whisk them farther north. They are soon separated, and Cora endures several terrible days trapped in a pitch-dark station that has been closed, only to find herself in North Carolina, which has taken a less subtle approach to dealing with its black population: total massacre of the race. Here, as in the other states in which Cora spends time, we meet some of the whites who shelter the runaway slaves, learning their stories and the reasons for their resistance.

Now that I’ve written about it, I do think this book’s first chapter is intentionally sly. Forever trapped on the first step of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, slaves probably did not build doghouses. South Carolina is famous as one of the most terrible places to be a slave, while North Carolina was one of the least horrific, relatively speaking. The American south depicted in this novel has the feel of something out of a George Saunders novel: almost a nightmarish theme-park version of our nation’s greatest reason for shame. I have to imagine that Whitehead’s purpose here to to draw attention to the fact that slavery has become mythologized in the American mind. Anyone who has read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass remembers Douglass’ harrowing time on Mr. Covey’s slave-breaking farm – both for Covey’s sadistic treatment of the slaves and for the triumphant way Douglass evades him. An acquaintance of mine who is a professor of African American history refers to this section of the Narrative as “propaganda.” He makes the point that plantations were businesses, and that as cruel as masters and overseers were, they also wanted to protect their investments, so their punishments always had the goal of making slaves work faster and more efficiently. He argues that the beatings depicted in the Narrative were meant to inspire pity and outrage among Northerners during the years before the Civil War; they were never meant as perfect realism. I cannot say on my own whether this acquaintance is correct: I believe him because he is a professor of African American history and because his argument that slaves were first and foremost business investments was persuasive, but I can’t confirm his assertions based on my own knowledge.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? We are a nation with a terrible past, and it is difficult for those of us without advanced history degrees to know where the lines are drawn between literal and figurative truth. Because I am glad that slavery ended when it did, I don’t look down on Douglass’ Narrative for being propaganda, if in fact it is. This is the nature of propaganda: people who support its purpose tend not to care if it reflects the literal truth. Whitehead’s novel plays with the mythological nature of our history as a slave nation. The “real” Underground Railroad (the one without tracks) was in some ways larger than life because of the courage and grit that were required to keep it moving and because of the fact that it saved as many slaves as it did; Whitehead mythologizes its greatness by transforming it into a literal railroad that runs in secret beneath the cities and countrysides of an oblivious nation. The insidious racism at the heart of Whitehead’s fictional South Carolina feels, by the time Cora leaves, as cruel as the most barbarous cotton plantation. The central message of this novel is that we don’t know as much as we think we know about our nation’s terrible history. This novel’s verisimilitude lies in the way it mixes fiction so freely with fact; in this it resembles the knowledge base of the average American.

Posted in Authors, Colson Whitehead, Fiction - general, Fiction - Historical, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Bethany, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Yarn Along


I still haven’t bought the yarn for the short-sleeved sweater I showed you a couple of weeks ago, but I’m making progress on my test placemat (or whatever) that’s helping me master linen stitch. It’s different from everything I’ve ever done and feels more like weaving than knitting. I realized that last time I didn’t do a good job of showing what linen stitch looks like up close, so I took the time to get a good close-up:


Isn’t that cool?

Other than showing off my linen stitch, mostly I’m just here today to tell you that apparently I’m now old enough that my books from college require special handling. I pulled this one off the shelf and opened it as if it were any other book, and the cover just popped off in my hand, just like that. Next time I’ll wear white cotton gloves and store the book in a climate-controlled vault. And there will have to be paperwork involved, of course.

With Daylight Savings Time on the horizon, I will do my best to keep obnoxious reflections of the overhead light out of my Yarn Along photos for the next seven months.

Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things. Happy Wednesday!

Posted in Uncategorized, Yarn Along | 4 Comments

A Review of Andre Dubus’ The Lieutenant


My reading goal for 2017 is to read more of what I call “quietly good” fiction. By this I mean stories that are well told but in traditional ways. I’m taking a moratorium on shifting point of view for a while and am seeking books that linger for long periods of time in the consciousness of one character, books that aren’t afraid to be subtle and introspective. Given this goal, Andre Dubus’ The Lieutenant was a great way to kick off the year. In this novel, 25-year-old Marine Lieutenant Dan Tierney (even his name is “quietly good”) temporarily takes command of the Marine detachment on board a Navy ship called the Vanguard because the commanding officer had to leave the ship for medical treatment. Right away we are bombarded both with Tierney’s basic goodness and eagerness and with his insecurities. We learn that Tierney doesn’t much like serving on a ship, which he viewed “with awe at times, but more often with scorn.” At the same time, he admires Marines who serve at sea – not quite including himself among their number, at least not yet – thinking of them as “at least six feet tall, firm-muscled and sunburned, the kind who stare at you like your manhood’s conscience from recruiting posters.” We learn that Dan is not over six feet tall himself and walks around feeling an insecure awareness of his height. We also learn about his abiding love for the Marines on the ship. Check out the bizarre passageways this sentence follows: “He was proud of them, and loyal – the pride and loyalty becoming steadily more intense, sustaining him in loneliness and the frustration of sea duty spent largely below decks, among seemingly labyrinthine passageways where strange levers and pipes and switches confronted him daily with his own alienation – and once in a bar at Yokosuka a plump ensign had sung the ‘Marines’ Hymn’ to the tune of ‘Clementine’ and Dan had knocked him off his bar stool.” And the reader thinks, Wait! How did we get to Yokosuka? Weren’t we just on a ship – labyrinthine passageways and such? And then there’s that internal mental moment when you figure out if it’s possible to sing the ‘Marines’ Hymn’ to the tune of ‘Clementine’ (it is), and then how did we get to Japan again? Weren’t we just on a ship? That’s what it’s like to follow Dan Tierney around through this novel. He does his job in a thoughtful and responsible way (though not without mistakes), but his mind is never far away from his masculinity and his honor and his secret fears that he may not in fact have as much of these qualities as he wishes he had.

Unfortunately, the paragraph above is all the close reading you’re going to get about this novel. As you’ve perhaps noticed, Postcards from Purgatory has been a little on the inactive side lately, and I read this book back in January. It’s a great read, and I recommend it, but I am going to have trouble writing an especially detailed review. But here, in no particular order, are some memories and impressions:

First, I read this book on tenterhooks, because when I was a school administrator I had an experience not entirely different from Tierney’s experience in this novel, which is to say that the rest of the administration went to a conference and left only the CFO and me behind to hold down the fort. And yes, as you might expect, everything went to shit. And I too was basically good and basically decent but also had any number of things to prove, just like Tierney, and just like Tierney I made mistakes. Not the same mistakes he makes, but the parallels are clear enough that I read this book with a great deal of anxiety and empathy for Tierney.

Here are the basics of the plot: on his first day in command, Tierney receives a report of an insubordination incident: a PFC refused to follow an order from a corporal. Tierney checks regulations and learns that he can use his discretion and choose one of several punishments, the most severe of which is three days in the brig on bread and water (yes, in the 20th century. This novel is set in the late 1950’s). Tierney decides that he doesn’t want to come across as indecisive or as a pushover (my inner voice was doing one of those slow-motion Noooooo’s here – I followed this part of the plot kicking and screaming), so he chooses the most severe punishment (horrible idea) and sends the offending Marine – Freeman, whom Tierney likes – to the brig on bread and water.

Tierney’s decision is this novel’s original sin. The rest of the plot flows out from this moment and gets tangled up and horrible. First, the commander of the ship (a Naval officer who outranks both Tierney and the Marine officer who usually commands the detachment) reprimands Tierney for choosing such a harsh punishment, putting Tierney on the defensive. Second, Tierney calls Freeman into his office and gives him a speech that is supposed to be avuncular and reassuring, reminding Freeman that he will have a clean slate when his punishment is over. This is not an inappropriate thing to tell Freeman, but Tierney handles it in an awkward way and Freeman is left confused.

It seems that when a Marine is in the brig on a Navy vessel, the commanding officer of the Marine detachment is required to read and, if needed, censor his incoming and outgoing mail. While carrying out this duty. Tierney learns that Freeman’s girlfriend is pregnant and that Freeman won’t be home from his deployment in time to be there for the birth. This information complicates things in a couple of ways. First, Tierney – whose insecurity about his manhood is always just under the surface – is envious of Freeman. Tierney believes himself to have a girlfriend, but she has not been answering his letters of late, and as the novel proceeds, including some flashbacks to the last time Tierney saw his girlfriend, it becomes clear to the reader that his girlfriend has moved on. Tierney is impressed and envious that Freeman has managed to impregnate his girlfriend, but since he is a decent guy, he doesn’t act on his envy in any kind of explicit way. At the same time, though, he can’t stop thinking about it: what does Freeman have that he does not? Eventually he decides that he should pull strings to get Freeman sent home in time for the baby’s birth. This is no small proposition, involving significant logistics, and it gives the impression that Tierney is showing favoritism toward Freeman. As all of this is going on, Tierney never loses his focus on himself and how he is perceived by others: “Dan sat in the office… having crossed the classroom where several troops were shining shoes, having felt so completely in control of the detachment and himself that he had been unaware of these troops and – for once – had not bothered to fix on his face the public expression of an officer: a look of serene confidence, as if he had transcended all the problems of the enlisted world and was now preoccupied with the logistics of an amphibious landing on the shores of China. He had merely crossed the room, watched by the troops, thinking of Freeman and Jan starting a baby on a sunny afternoon in Oakland, and as he recrossed the room to enter his office, he was smiling warmly to himself.”

Tierney can be tedious in this way. This is not the only self-referential room-crossing scene in the novel, and wait until you read the parts where he congratulates himself for having to shave more often than Freeman does. But these passages don’t bog down the novel because they are so real. Dubus does a fantastic job of rendering the pride, insecurity, and fear of a young man left in charge of something important. It’s interesting to me that Tierney is twenty-five: just the age at which the “missing part of the adolescent brain” stops being missing – supposedly anyway. Tierney knows everything he should do and has excellent intentions, but his actions are always awkward and often misinterpreted, and he thinks and rethinks every last decision he makes – often choosing the wrong course of action as a result. For me, this quality makes him a very sympathetic character. He never, ever relaxes – and neither did I when I was reading this book.

It may seem as if I’m giving away a lot of the plot, but trust me, there’s more. Dubus extends each of these relatively ordinary situations to the farthest extent of its consequences, and – I’ll just share one more plot point – soon we learn that there was more to the insubordination incident than Tierney knew. The corporal to whom Freeman was rude is one of three Marines who had been hazing Freeman severely for several months. Much of the novel is taken up with Tierney’s investigation of this incident, and I found the investigation compelling (and also nerve-wracking, because like I said, I’ve been there).

Penis size is involved – not just figuratively but literally. And with that I leave you.

Posted in Andre Dubus, Authors, Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Bethany, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Review of Anne Tyler’s The Beginner’s Goodbye (by Jill)



I am a huge fan of purchasing Anne Tyler’s books. I assume some day I’ll read more of them and be a huge fan of reading them, too, but this was the first one I have actually read. I picked The Beginner’s Goodbye to read when I did because it was next on my pile of books from my boss; though it was chosen out of the chronological order I usually follow when reading her books. I should have read The Pickwick Papers but I just couldn’t do it. It’s too long.

The Beginner’s Goodbye is a love story, albeit the least romantic love story I have ever read. Aaron is the narrator, and he works at his family’s vanity publishing business, whose most successful publications have been “The Beginner’s….” series. You know, like the “For Dummies” series in real life. He has some sort of childhood deformity and has always been overprotected by his sister, which he finds suffocating. Somehow, he meets Dorothy, a very non-maternal lawyer, and he finds her lack of attention of his physical difficulties so refreshing he marries her. I was never quite sure while I was reading this book if Dorothy loved Aaron, but that’s probably because he was never sure if she loved him. She seemed like the kind of person who wouldn’t have married someone if she didn’t really want to, but perhaps I was mistaken. The story is told somewhat non-linearly, so we know at the beginning of the novel that Dorothy is dead, but we don’t find out right away how she died. It’s pretty terrible: a big tree falls into their house and kills her while Aaron is taking a nap in another part of the house. He sleeps through the whole thing because he is sick with a fever. When he wakes up there is a tree in the hallway and his wife is dead. And shortly thereafter he starts seeing his dead wife. But this isn’t really a ghost story, not really. It’s about saying goodbye to people and learning to accept change, and it was actually quite lovely, though maybe a little short. I would have loved to spend more time with Aaron and Dorothy while they were both alive, because their relationship was fascinating. It was clear they loved each other (at least I think so), but there was no sentimentality there, and I’m not sure why. The last time Aaron “sees” Dorothy’s ghost they finally say some of the things to each other that they never said when Dorothy was still alive, and Aaron seems to find a measure of peace from that. Overall, an enjoyable book, and I hope to get back to Anne Tyler again someday soon.

Posted in Anne Tyler, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Jill, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Yarn Along


Whew – I got this post up. I had almost forgotten how.

Just kidding – sort of. I haven’t been knitting much over the last couple of months, and I got so tired of posting the same few projects over and over. My usual stand-by patterns weren’t appealing to me, so for a while I didn’t knit much at all. Then I went browsing through some of my knitting books, looking for a project I could really get excited about. Finally, I found this:


In addition to wanting to paint every wall in sight the teal in this photo (the picture doesn’t do it justice), I am very excited about making this pullover. The yoke is linen stitch, which I had never heard of before, so I cast on some stitches to try it out. After a few false starts, I got into the swing of the stitch and LOVED it. It’s different from anything I’ve ever done, and for some reason, it made me think of placemats, so I ripped out the small swatch and cast on a placemat. We’ll see how far that goes. I haven’t ordered the yarn yet for my sweater but am excited to get started. The book is More Modern Top-Down Knitting by Kristina McGowan.

I am reading SO many books. It’s really a problem. You should see the stack beside my bed. For my Yarn Along photo I chose Howard Markel’s An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug COCAINE, partly because it was close at hand while other books are not and partly because the all-caps in COCAINE amuses me, and I’ve been looking forward to being able to share that amusement with you. This is not to say that Postcards from Purgatory is elevating COCAINE to the status of PAT CONROY and TIME TRAVEL in any kind of general way. That kind of decision would require a board meeting.

Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things.

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Thoughts on Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist


It’s possible that I was the last English teacher on earth who hadn’t read The Alchemist. When did this book become so omnipresent on 9th grade reading lists? Many students list it as a favorite, and it’s not surprising that its be-yourselfy message appeals to the millennial and post-millennial set. To me it felt like a 167-page graduation card. It’s sort of Franny and Zooey meets The Little Prince meets Star Wars if Star Wars were just about Luke and Obi-Wan and Yoda and no one else.

Like The Little Prince, which the reviewers on the book’s back cover invoke more than once, this book is set in the north African desert and is about lots of vague mystical things. I love The Little Prince, which may be because I encountered it in my early teens, which is just the right age to encounter books like these. The Alchemist is about a shepherd named Santiago who goes to see a Gypsy who knows how to interpret dreams. The Gypsy tells the shepherd to sell his sheep and go to Egypt. While Santiago is still deciding whether to go, he reads a book and is surprised when an old man approaches and begins to talk about the book Santiago is reading. This book “‘says the same thing almost all the other books in the world say,’” says the old man. “‘It describes people’s inability to choose their own Personal Legends. And it ends up saying that everyone believes the world’s greatest lie.’

“‘What’s the world’s greatest lie?’ the boy asked, completely surprised.

“‘It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what is happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.’” (18)

Of course this is compelling. It’s compelling to ninth graders, and as I make my last few gasps in my sprint toward my 41st birthday, I’m not immune to its appeal either. The thing is, I feel the appeal, but I also feel compelled to mock it. I put the book down. I googled “Alchemist parody.” Is it possible this book has never been parodied? And if not, excuse me while I cancel all my plans and write a parody of it myself. But first I have to write all the other things I canceled plans in order to write.

This is the essence of my response to The Alchemist. I desperately want to mock it – but I am also compelled by it and wish the world were full of forces that were sitting there waiting to pull us to our best possible lives if only we were receptive and spiritual enough to gain access to them. What an alluring idea. But if all of us sell our sheep and go to Egypt in search of our Personal Legend (the capital letters are the best part), who’s going to stay put and work in the DMV? Who’s going to work in the grocery store and say, “Is that a chip card? Then you need to insert it” over and over and over again? Yes, of course I know that in an elevated, more spiritual world maybe we would no longer need to have a DMV, or someone would be born whose Personal Legend is to work in the DMV and who is absolutely delighted to be there serving you – though this then conjures up images out of a different novel common on high school reading lists: “Alphas and Betas have to work so hard, and Deltas and Epsilons are frightfully stupid. I’m glad I’m a Gamma.”

So Santiago sells his sheep and goes to North Africa, where he works for a crystal merchant for a while and learns cliché insights about life while doing so, and at some point he becomes obsessed with meeting someone called “the Alchemist.” He ends up in an oasis in the desert among people who remind me of the Prophet Muhammad’s extended family as described in a book I read earlier this year (excuse me, LAST year) – and since this book stubbornly refuses to reveal when in history it is set, this comparison might not be far off the mark. He meets an idealized female (all fake parables need one of those) named Fatima (see what I mean about the Muhammad thing?), and then the alchemist says some mumbo-jumbo things about her: “She knows that men have to go away in order to return. And she already has her treasure: it’s you. Now she expects that you will find what it is you’re looking for” (118), which is a little sexist, isn’t it – sort of like “he for God, she for the God in him” from Paradise Lost? And the alchemist tells Santiago that if he stays in the oasis and marries Fatima he’ll never be happy, because his soul will always want to go in search of its Personal Legend, which sounds more or less like the entire narrative of my life and excuse me for a minute while I drown my tears in some baby carrots.

And then Fatima says some Game of Thrones-ish things like “One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for the loving” (122), which apparently is how idealized females from the desert talk. Then Coehlo writes some sentences that more or less say “What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well,” which is from The Little Prince and is way more profound than anything in this book. And the alchemist tells Santiago that “before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way… That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon” (132), which is the sort of thing my Taekwondo teacher used to say when he wanted to scare people shitless about their black belt tests.

This book is a synthesis of pop spirituality. It draws on Christianity and Islam, hence the Muhammad vibe. Melchizedek and the Urim and Thummim make confusing cameo appearances. Every thirty pages or so someone says some bit of pseudo-wisdom like “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon” (32). And we eat it up, we 21st-century American seekers, who have no idea what we’re looking for but are pretty sure we’ll find it somewhere on the internet, if we could just figure out where to look. And there are plenty of moments that tempt one to write “these are not the droids you’re looking for” in the margins, so I did so, feeling all intellectual and superior, even though if I could make my eyes all focused and intense and speak these words to some hooded desert security guard and cause him to become dazed and wave me through, I would be as pleased with myself as you would.

Posted in Authors, Fiction - Fake Parables, Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Paulo Coehlo, Reviews by Bethany, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Review of Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno (by Jill)


tsar-of-love-and-techno-coverMy 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.

Posted in Anthony Marra, Fiction - general, Fiction - Historical, Fiction - literary, Fiction - Novels Masquerading as Short Story Collections or Vice Versa, Reviews by Jill, Uncategorized | Leave a comment