November, 2016: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

(Book #79) I grew up with Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Boris and Natasha and elementary school bomb drills during the coldest part of the Cold War. I’ve taken a train from Vilnius, Lithuania into St. Petersburg and had the life scared out of me by a squat female border guard who asked me (rather than my husband) all the questions at the crossing and handed back my passport with the words “Good luck to you.” We visited Moscow and took their underground amazed at its depth and for at least 20 years a Moscow-born Russian, who vividly remembers Stalin’s funeral, did my nails. I just can’t read enough about Russia. I haven’t read nearly everything by Russian writers but I’ve read Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, The Master and Margarita, The Twelve Chairs, and I saw a great theatrical production of The Brothers Karamazov in Stratford, Ontario. I love the Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith that started with Gorky Park. The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean was great and one of my favorite books of all time is David Benioff’s City of Thieves. Anthony Marra’s first book Constellation of Vital Phenomena is my definition of genius, so I couldn’t wait to host The Tsar of Love and Techno.

My invitation: The Miss Siberia Beauty Pageant will still to take place as before announced even with bins of sulfur waste yet waiting to remove from the backstage and dressing room, for day of Tuesday, November 22, 2120 W Schiller Ulitza. If you are wishing to strive for crown, please to complete below form and return. Name: Date for Birth: Show for Talant:

When the girls arrived we poured Georgian wine, a nod to Stalin’s Georgian roots. For starters we had Russian black bread, pickled herring and beets.  For dinner I made Kulebyaka, a kind of salmon pie, cabbage rolls, and the Olivier salad, but bought the pelmeni from Ann’s Ukrainian Bakery and Deli. For dessert I made a Russian Korolevsky cake (King’s Cake) a three-layer cake, one layer flavored with cocoa powder, one with poppy seeds and one with walnuts.

Sadly, there was very little discussion of the book, because our book club is comprised of liberals and the election results pulled the rug out from under us. If you haven’t read this book yet you must. If you don’t like the short story think of each of them as a chapter and you’ll see how they all weave together. As the Goodreads blurb says:  “This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking.” 

As an homage to Roman Markin, a retoucher in the Department of Party Propaganda and Agitation,  who blots out and replaces the faces of the disfavored from photographs, I gave each of the girls a framed photo of our membership. The original photo is missing Mary and me — though I was able to place Mary in between Marcia and Linda for her photo.  In each of the photos I gave the girls, the recipient’s face has been replaced by Stalin’s.

A favorite quote:  “Endurance, I reminded myself, is the true measure of existence.”