THE TSAR OF LOVE AND TECHNO: STORIES
Random House Audio. Unabridged, 10
Set in Chechnya, Siberia and St. Petersburg from the 1930s to the present, Anthony Marra’s “The Tsar of Love and Techno” is a stark, often bleakly comic collection of intertwined stories that explore the fungibility of fact and the power of images — or their erasure. Delivered in the voices of three well-chosen narrators, each story is read by one person alone. First up is Mark Bramhall, an American with a melodic, woodwind voice who executes a fine East-European accent, easing out of it for general narration. Also present are Rustam Kasymov and Beata Pozniak, whose voices reflect their origins in Russia and Poland, respectively. All three get across the dark wonder, cynical resignation and dry irony that run through the souls of people in a world where the young can say that their elders “had journeyed through hell so we could grow up in purgatory.”
H IS FOR HAWK
Blackstone Audio. Unabridged, 11 hours
Helen Macdonald reads her own memoir of grief assuaged in training a goshawk in a pleasant, low-pitched, top-drawer English voice. This is a story of many acts: anguished, frustrating, uplifting and sometimes comical. Interleaved between the author’s description of her personal torments and her deepening relationship with the bird she calls Mabel, are accounts of the life of T.H. White. Best known for “The Once and Future King,” he was also a goshawk aficionado, who recorded his own inept and mortifying efforts at training a bird in “The Goshawk.” Macdonald draws on this work as well as his notebooks and manuscripts to flesh out the life of a man tortured by his sexual orientation. Her research into White, goshawks and her own life and feelings is made all the more compelling by its being brought to us in her own voice.
By Don Winslow
Blackstone Audio. Unabridged, 23
“The Cartel,” Don Winslow’s terrifying, hugely populated sequel to “The Power of the Dog,” includes, early on, a brisk tour of the 30-year territory covered by its predecessor. Ray Porter brings a clear, hard-edged voice to this narco-thriller, a monumental human tragedy and graphic indictment of the war on drugs. Most of the countless characters whose lives (and deaths) we follow in what comes to nearly a day’s-worth of narration are Mexican, thus Spanish words and phrases abound, and are handled by Porter with elegance and musical grace. The novel, a fast-paced, complex and violent weave of destinies marked by greed, vengeance and innocence damned, is dedicated to the journalists who were murdered or disappeared in covering the Mexican drug trade. Outstanding both as novel and performance, this is not for the squeamish.
THE DUST THAT FALLS FROM DREAMS
By Louis de Bernières
Random House. Unabridged, 17
Opening in 1902 with a garden party celebrating Edward VII’s coronation, Louis de Bernières’s novel delivers a feast of period detail and twilight melancholy to minister to our insatiable appetite for Edwardian and World War I family drama. British actor David Sibley handles most of the narration, which involves the complex relations between the members of three families and survival and death in the theater of war. They are the McCoshes, led by a Scottishly burring Hamilton McCosh; the Pitts, headed by a French widow afflicted with the English version of a French accent; and the American Pendennises, whose Yankee tones Sibley underplays nicely. Avita Jay pipes up to handle a few chapters narrated by women, highborn and low, among them the officious letters to the King and the Duke of Devonshire from the royalty-smitten pen of “Mrs. Hamilton McCosh, Gentlewoman.”
Hachette Audio. Unabridged, 91/2 hours
Gently sad, quietly shocking at times and laced throughout with tart observation, most of the stories in Edith Pearlman’s “Honeydew,” are set in and around a generally well-heeled town just outside Boston. Suzanne Toren reads the collection in a warm, deliberately paced voice for the most part, though a few foreign-born characters do appear to bear accents more exotic than authentic. In general, though, her manner and tone are perfectly calibrated for capturing the tension and the sense of civic strain that Pearlman creates so adroitly in following her characters from their smallest doings to their most momentous ones. The stories find their subjects in the familiar disruptions of middle-class life: adultery, anorexia, extravagant expenditure, cancer, elderly infirmity and at least one less familiar one: the casting out of demons into the bodies of gerbils.
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks for The Washington Post.