Winner of the BookBrowse 2013 Best Debut Novel Award
Stegner Fellow, Iowa MFA, and winner of The Atlantic's Student Writing Contest, Anthony Marra has written a brilliant debut novel that brings to life an abandoned hospital where a tough-minded doctor decides to harbor a hunted young girl, with powerful consequences.
In the final days of December 2004, in a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa hides in the woods when her father is abducted by Russian forces. Fearing for her life, she flees with their neighbor Akhmed - a failed physician - to the bombed-out hospital, where Sonja, the one remaining doctor, treats a steady stream of wounded rebels and refugees and mourns her missing sister. Over the course of five dramatic days, Akhmed and Sonja reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal, and forgiveness that unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate.
With The English Patient's dramatic sweep and The Tiger's Wife's expert sense of place, Marra gives us a searing debut about the transcendent power of love in wartime, and how it can cause us to become greater than we ever thought possible.
On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones. While the girl dressed, Akhmed, who hadn't slept at all, paced outside the bedroom door, watching the sky brighten on the other side of the window glass; the rising sun had never before made him feel late. When she emerged from the bedroom, looking older than her eight years, he took her suitcase and she followed him out the front door. He had led the girl to the middle of the street before he raised his eyes to what had been her house. "Havaa, we should go," he said, but neither moved.
The snow softened around their boots as they stared across the street to the wide patch of flattened ash. A few orange embers hissed in pools of gray snow, but all else was char. Not seven years earlier, Akhmed had helped Dokka build an addition so the girl would have a room of her own. He had drawn the blueprints and chopped the hardwood and cut it into boards and turned ...
Garnering rave reviews coast-to-coast, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is an unforgettable debut novel that deftly explores the human cost of warand the healing power of hope. In this haunting masterwork, award-winning author Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya. It is 2004, and an eight-year-old girl has just watched Russian soldiers abduct her father and set fire to her house in the middle of the night. Accused of aiding Chechen rebels, her father has suffered the brutality of the Feds before. Fearing the worst, their lifelong neighbor Akhmed rescues the girl and seeks refuge at the bombed-out hospital run by Sonja, a brilliant but tough-as-nails ...
Some of the recent comments posted about A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.
Before reading "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena", how much did you know about Chechnya? Which of the novel's cultural details surprised you the most?
I knew very little about Chechnya and have spend a few days on the Internet to familiarize myself with the wars. The book is very brutal in its portrayal of the conflict, probably very true to actual fact. I found during my reading of the book (... - joannev
Cover art for paperback version
I was quite taken with the cover art for the paperback version of this novel. Most authors have no say about covers that appear on their work. This cover is stunning in it's simplicity and weighted with meaning. The blue suitcase in sharp focus ... - beverlys
Cultural heritage is important to each of the characters' identities. Do you identify with a particular culture, and if so, how and to what extent does it influence your life and the lives of your family?
Cultural heritage is important to each and every one of us. In my case: I was born in Latvia, came here as an immigrant, a child, a refugee from WWII. The important thing is the ability to aclimitize into this culture. To absorb all the ... - guntak
Do you think the idea of returning to one's homeland is a universal concern?
Several very astute comments on this. I am many generations from a homeland outside the US so have no particular interest in where those people lived. I also grew up in small town Midwest where my very large and extended family has resided for a ... - joyces
How would you describe Constellation to a friend?
As someone else stated, this is a book I will be thinking about for awhile. It has incredible depth. - valeriec
Anthony Marra's forte may very well be his ability to create characters his readers really come to care about. Every one of them, from the lowliest guard up, is drawn with amazing depth, with the author sometimes conveying a character's whole history in just a few sentences. He even leads his readers to understand and sympathize with the book's most unsavory character, something that is extraordinarily difficult to do.
(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (1138 words).
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is set primarily during the Second Chechen War, which started August 1999.
The second war had its roots in the First Chechen War (aka the War in Chechnya). At the heart of this initial conflict and indeed the one that followed - was the relationship of Chechnya to Russia.
Chechnya was one of more than a dozen states to declare independence from Russia in the wake of the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991. But not all Chechens agreed with the decision with many wanting to remain a part of the Russian Federation. The end result was that Chechen President Dzokhar Dudayev's pro-independence government was unstable and this led to armed resistance by rebels opposed to his domestic policies. ...
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