Beyond the synopsis, the cover also made me want to read this book. The cover looked (and is) just so colorful and the font looks kind of like a cross between what you would see on an old propaganda poster and an '80's band poster. If the synopsis hadn't reeled me in, I would have read this book for the cover alone.
Other than the synopsis and the cover, I didn't know much about this book going in to it. This is the first book I've read by Anthony Marra as well, so I started this book with no idea as to where it was going to go. I was, however, under the impression that it was YA. It's not, which was kind of a shock for me, but it didn't bother me in the end. I also didn't realize that it was supposed to be read as a series of short stories (just goes to show how well I read the synopsis, which is, not very well at all). I assumed it was a novel and just dove right in. I was a little confused for a while, but eventually realized what was happening.
This story was so complex and masterfully done. It's common for a book to have a main character that brings everything else together, but to have the common denominator be an inanimate object is kind of mind blowing. I honestly didn't see how Marra would pull all of the stories together, but he did, and it was so amazing every time I realized exactly how the next story connected with all of the previous ones.
I will admit, I had a hard time staying interested in this book. This is because it is very dark and depressing throughout. However, considering the time periods that this book spans (from the heyday of Communism in Russia to the Cold War and the later rise of democracy) it's no wonder that the tone of the book isn't the happiest. As far as I can tell, it portrays the stark reality of life in Russia very well, and that's really all you can ask.
I give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was well written, but I needed more light among the dark parts. I probably would have been happy if we had just followed the first character throughout his whole life. I would recommend that this book shouldn't be given to younger teenagers, as there are some themes that I feel need a certain level of maturity to understand, such as murder and drug use. But I also think that it is a good book that, if approached the right way, could be used as a good teaching tool, both from a social aspect and a historical view point.