Archive for the ‘Anthony Marra’ Tag

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The cinematic worlds created in 1940s Hollywood collide with the realities
of World War II and personal battles of the characters in Anthony Marra’s Mercury
Pictures Presents
.

After her father is arrested for his anti-fascist writings and imprisoned in
an Italian penal colony, young Maria immigrates with her mother from Rome to
Los Angeles. The move does nothing to assuage the guilt she carries for
inadvertently alerting authorities to her father’s political transgressions.
Years later she’s hired at Mercury Pictures, a second-rate movie studio, where
she becomes an associate producer.

Marra incorporates multiple storylines tied together by Maria and Mercury
Pictures. Numerous characters populate the novel; most have emigrated to escape
persecution in their home countries. All, perhaps especially Maria,
try to reinvent themselves. Humor, irony and pathos merge as they navigate new
lives despite their status as second-class residents while making propaganda
films to support the war effort.

Much of the story is set in Hollywood/Los Angeles, but other locales
prominently figure in the epic Marra crafts, including San Lorenzo, Italy,
where Maria’s father lives out his days. The Utah desert is a surprising setting:
where, during the war, a crew from Mercury recreates German village to film a
war scene.

All of the characters are nuanced and interesting. They’re talented and
ambitious. These include Maria’s Chinese-American boyfriend; the German
miniaturist; the Italian cinematographer and the Jewish studio head, among
others. None are caricatures and all face some form of prejudice, much of which
is anticipated, some unexpected.

Mercury Pictures Presents

Four Bookmarks

Hogarth, 2022

416 pages

From Russia With Art   1 comment

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Anthony Marra is the master of foreshadowing. At times he’s subtle, then he’s as obvious as an agitated teenager reeking of cigarettes claiming he doesn’t smoke. This was true of his first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and follows suit in his most recent: The Tsar of Love and Techno.

Marra has chosen a similar setting in Russia with another interesting cast of characters; however, he spans more time, beginning in 1937 continuing to present day. He expands the setting from Siberia to Leningrad/St. Petersburg to Chechnya: landscape is a crucial element.

The narrative begins with an artist in the propaganda department whose job is to erase enemies of the state whose images appear in paintings and photographs. He does this by blotting out faces with ink or by painting something new, which is often his dead brother’s face. It appears in a myriad of scenes representing various phases of his life: child, teenager, middle age and old age.

With each chapter comes a new narrator, in a different setting providing a singular element to the overall novel. The stories are a progression. It’s no spoiler alert to note that the pieces do eventually fit together (very well). Even if they didn’t, Marra’s writing is full of wit and pathos. The images of the pollution-wreaked mining community in Siberia are stark and frigid; just as a Chechnyan hillside is pastoral and warm. The men and women introduced by the author are so human their breath practically turns the pages.

The Tzar of Love and Techno
Four bookmarks
Hogarth, 2015
365 pages

Soviet Roulette   Leave a comment

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

 

Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vial Phenomena demonstrates that families are often created by need, proximity and shared experiences – sometimes more than bloodlines.

Marra writes of worn-torn Chechnya. More accurately, his story involves the newly-formed family of Akhmed, Havaa and Sonja, three genetically-unrelated characters whose lives intersect because of friendship, obligation and fate.

Moving back and forth between 1994 and 2004, Marra details the poverty and fear of those living in a small Chechen village. Eight-year-old Havaa is rescued by Akhmed, a long-time family friend, when the girl’s father is “disappeared” by military authorities.

Akhmed, a third-rate physician, takes the child to the city hospital 11 kilometers away. There, he convinces Sonja, a surgeon, in charge of the facility to keep Havaa. In exchange, Akhmed offers his medical services, which prove to be lacking.

The novel’s beauty is Marra’s writing. The people and landscape are bleak, and are vividly portrayed. Yet hope surfaces in spite of the harsh conditions. Havaa is optimistic about her father returning; Akhmed hopes he can keep the child safe; and Sonja needs to believe that her younger sister, Natasha, is still alive. Hope also makes cameo appearances when Marra foretells characters’ futures. At first this is done with incidental players, then minor ones and finally those about whom the reader cares most.

Trying to understand the historical context of Chechnya is confusing. Fortunately, Marra’s emphasis is on a handful of characters, each who do what it takes to survive while trying to remain true to themselves.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Four Bookmarks

Hogarth, 2013

384 pages