The 2016 Tournament of Books - Day Seven

The 2016 Tournament of Books  -  Day Seven

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard vs The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

These are both excellent books, they’re also depressing books. The Book of Aron is obviously depressing–it’s about a young man in the Warsaw Ghetto and to write truthfully about that means that it’s brutally depressing. The Tsar of Love and Techno is a beautifully written book but at its heart is a book that I and others have described as “very Russian.” And when I say “very Russian” I mean that it’s dark and depressing and people die in horrible, unfortunate ways and anyone who tries in their small way to speak out against what is so obviously wrong is killed.

Marra wrote two of my favorite passages that I have come across in these novels. One where a Russian man who runs a phishing scam explains where he gets his list of people to call–the Tom Hanks facebook fan page. The other is a great tribute by a Russian mail order bride to the wheelchair ramp.

On the one hand, the tones of these books have a lot in common, but they both take very different approaches. Shepard writes the novel’s from Aron’s point of view, and it is in many respects a simple, straightforward way of telling the story. That simplicity and the way that Shepard manages to inhabit Aron’s voice. This is a story where going in, I knew more or less how it would end. This wasn’t going to be a fell good story, and this simplicity and the use of a single figure to tell the tale made it powerful and compelling.

Marra’s book on the other hand is a series of linked short stories that are tried together and so the telling of the tale is primary. In the hands of a lesser writer, the result would have felt a little too self-conscious, a little too pat, as though the puzzle pieces were being assembled and connected in a more obvious manner. Marra manages to write these stories and connect them in a way where the reader is aware of what’s happening throughout, but then, at the end, he still manages to achieve that moment of transcendence at the end of the book.

My Pick:  The Tsar of Love and Techno.

Over at the Tournament:  The Tsar of Love and Techno.

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