I picked this off my pile and shoved it in my bag on my way out the door to work, but when I opened it on the bus I realized that all the things I remembered liking about it when I bought it weren’t actually true. The two chief disappointments were that it was a book of short stories (I was hoping to read a novel next), and that it seemed to jump around in time (which since Cloud Atlas I’ve cynically assumed is always a crutch).
I could not have been more wrong, about any of it. It reminded me in wonderful ways of Moral Disorder , a book which was also billed as “short stories” but felt much more like a novel told in vignettes (reminding me subsequently of the stellar, and similarly wrenching, The Things They Carried, really). Tsar jumped around in time not as a gimmick but because it wove a true tapestry, not a forced one, of lives in Siberia and Russia and showed clearly and unassumingly the reverberations of the past into the future, of lives into other lives. (In a much more specific way, it reminded me of A Visit from the Goon Squad , which also had a final chapter (story, here) that was far-flung and out of the blue, except in this book it truly felt like a coda, tying up the story lyrically and unusually.)
I cannot pick a favorite story; I will leave that to more eloquent and intelligent readers than I. I felt a thrill whenever something from a previous story popped up, but they weren’t gotcha moments, instead moments of familiarity and warmth. Nadya brings Vladimir through her gallery, and my heart swelled like I was hearing about a friend’s grandmother’s health. In just a few short pages, really, Marra made me feel close to these characters: Vera’s rough edges and desperation, Galina and her quiet melancholy, Vladimir and his portraits.
In just a few short pages, really, Marra made me feel close to these characters.
I am writing this review almost a full month after I finished but it’s stuck with me the whole time and I don’t anticipate forgetting it anytime soon. This was one of the best surprises I’ve ever gotten from a book. Put simply, I loved it.