Anthony Marra is the winner of a Whiting Award, a Pushcart Prize, The Atlantic's Student Writing Contest, and the Narrative Prize, and his work was anthologized in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He has lived and studied in Eastern Europe, and now resides in Oakland, CA.
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Anthony Marra answers questions about The Constellation of Vital Phenomena, set in war-torn Chechnya and the reason he rewrote this, his first novel, four times
Q. Why write about Chechnya?
A. I first became interested in the region as a college student in St. Petersburg. I arrived to Petersburg shortly after the journalist Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated, presumably for the reporting she did from Chechnya. I realized that Chechnya was a place I didn't know how to spell and couldn't find on a map, but the ramifications of the wars there had reached as far north as Petersburg, where on a daily basis I saw Russian veterans soliciting for alms in the Metro stations. I began reading nonfiction accounts of Chechnya and quickly became fascinated. Its history and culture has inspired writers like Tolstoy, Lermontov, and Pushkin. The accounts I read of ordinary people in remarkable situations were the kinds of stories that I felt needed to be brought to life through fiction.
But to answer the question of why set a novel in Chechnya, my answer would be that it is a setting that magnifies and dramatizes the moral conflicts of characters in extraordinary ways. This cast of characters wants what we all ...
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