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.
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).
The grimness is persistent, but Marra relays it with unusual care and empathy for a first-timer. A somber, sensitive portrait of how lives fray and bind again in chaotic circumstances.
Starred Review. Marra's sobering, complex debut intertwines the stories of a handful of characters at the end of the second war in bleak, apocalyptic Chechnya.
Starred Review. Marra collapses time, sliding between 1996 and 2004 while also detailing events in a future yet to arrive, giving his searing novel an eerie, prophetic aura. All of the characters are closely tied together in ways that Marra takes his time revealing, even as he beautifully renders the way we long to connect and the lengths we will go to endure.
Starred Review. Marra's moving novel will appeal to admirers of Tea Obreht's similarly war-torn novel The Tiger's Wife, but his story relies less on magical realism and more on the seemingly random threads binding us together. Highly recommended for all readers of literary fiction.
Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular. Not since Everything is Illuminated have I read a first novel so ambitious and fully realized. If this is where Anthony Marra begins his career, I can't imagine how far he will go.
Adam Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan Master's Son
Remarkable and breathtaking, Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a spellbinding elegy for an overlooked land engulfed by an oft forgotten war. Set in the all-too-real Chechen conflict, Marra conjures fragile and heartfelt characters whose fates interrogate the very underpinnings of love and sacrifice.
T.C. Boyle, New York Times bestselling author of When the Killing's Done and The Women
Powerful, convincing, beautifully realized--it's hard to believe that A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a first novel. Anthony Marra is a writer to watch and savor.
Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It
Anthony Marra's novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, is both devastating and transcendent. The story of eight people (and a nation) navigating two brutal wars, it's a novel of loyalty and sacrifice and enduring love. You'll finish it transformed.
Vincent Lam, author of The Headmaster's Wager
Anthony Marra's fine debut novel reaches tenderly, unflinchingly, into the center of the Chechnyan conflict of the late 1990s. This tale has its roots in shocking brutality, and its beauty in the human redemption that can come from unaccountable human kindness. Whimsies of circumstance, fate, and the ties of family and faith serve to guide the reader and the characters through a richly layered and deeply beautiful journey.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Diane S. A constellation of Vital Phenomena When I looked at the author's photo at the back of the book he looked to me to be about sixteen yrs. old, although a goodreads friend of mine assured me he was twenty-eight or twenty-nine. Even so I am jealous that someone this young could write... Read More
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. The situation was exacerbated by the Russian Government under President Boris Yeltsin, which sought to further destabilize Chechnya by supplying the rebels with money, weapons and mercenaries. Non-ethnic Chechens (predominantly ethnic Russians, Armenians & Ukrainians) began to flee the republic, leading to an economic crisis and...
A beguiling, imaginative, inspiring story about the bigness of being alive as an individual, as a member of a tribe, and as a participant in history, exploring how we use storytelling to survive and shape our own truths.
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