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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra X
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
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  • First Published:
    May 2013, 400 pages
    Feb 2014, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Power Reviewer

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
"At the kitchen table she examined the glass of ice. Each cube was rounded by room temperature, dissolving in its own remains, and belatedly she understood that this was how a loved one disappeared. Despite the shock of walking into an empty flat, the absence isn’t immediate, more a fade from the present tense you shared, a melting into the past, not an erasure but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched now runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it."

A story of three dissimilar people coping to survive in a war infested land. A story not only about war but a story intersecting three characters together through various connections. The trials facing each is the foundation for this poignant story. Marra crafted an irresistible and sensitive debut novel.

A multitude of different perspectives given by the differing three protagonists. With the varying voices and viewpoints this allows the reader multiple points to consider long after the novel's cover has been gently closed. Sonja competent physician, professional. She is overworked and exhausted, her hard exterior is taking a beating. Akhmed a physician but rather be painting. Facing any situation thrown his way with strength and poise. With his artistic ability Akhmed reworks the faces of the 'disappeared' to be recovered by family. Haava an eight year girl suffering the loss of her mother, witnessing her father be taken away forcefully by soldiers and now she is residing in a hospital seeing the carnage of war daily. Other secondary characters are involved in the narrative introducing multiple facets of war affecting people - kidnapping, smuggling and more. Marra does a wonderful job covering a quantity of issues without the narrative being overdone or scattered.

Marra has left quite an impression, unbelievable this was a debut effort. His elegant and lyrically rhythmic prose immediately captured my attention. Wonderfully executed from beginning to end. A memorable novel in numerous ways. A novel unmistakably worth reading.

worthy of being called "literature"
Anthony Marra not only tells a great story, he can really write. Beautifully drawn characters and wonderful prose make this book a work of art. The constant shifting forward and backward in time took some mental adjustment, but was an effective way to tell the story. Highly recommended
Denise B-K

Highly recommend "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena."
Unaware of "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" (CVP) until the much deserved BookBrowse and Goodreads 2013 book awards were announced and certainly glad I check on these. Received this book from BookBrowse in order to participate in the website’s book discussion. My rating is not influenced by this.

Immensely enjoyed CVP. Rate it 5 stars, a rating I’ve not bestowed to a contemporary book for nearly a year. One huge endorsement is that I put this novel on my Goodreads “reread shelf” which mainly holds classics and another is that I judge it to be a great choice for book clubs. For me, CVP’s strengths included its beautiful prose, character development, unique take on what could have been yet another “political/war story” and interweaving story lines which were successfully completed by the book’s conclusion. My one criticism is that it took me a while to become fully engaged with the novel due to my lack of knowledge about Chechnya and the considerable detail about the multiple characters. A sign of CVP’s success is that it motivated me to seek out additional knowledge about Chechnya after finished the book.

Have recommended CVP to everyone in my large circle of bibliophilic friends and family (with the advise to read about Chechnya in advance and be patient for their literary reward). Also, this novel’s story and characters were in my thoughts long after I finished so CVP became a topic of conversation with my non-reading friends.

Beautiful narration, painful but intelligent.
I received this book as a book club read from Bookbrowse.
A painfully human narration of ordinary people living through the ethnic conflict in Chechnya. I found the book to be captivating and painful to read. The purges, the freedom gained, and later the ethnic marginalizing of Chechens (mostly Muslims) sheds light on the complex issues and corruption rampant in the states broken away from the former USSR. Beautiful story telling without judgement that tries to make sense of love, family ties, and human bondage in the times of civil unrest and devastation due to war.

War and peace
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is receiving marvelous reviews and accolades from other authors. It is on numerous top ten lists. It deserves every good thing that can be said about it. It is an amazing tour de force. It should be required reading.
As the Olympics raises the question of why suicide bombers are threatening Sochia, this book answers the question. And then raises so many more.
Slowly and inexorably, Marra describes the lives of his multi generational characters in the present, the past And the future. When you think you grasp what makes a particular family unhappy, he adds another layer of love and betrayal that further complicates it. When you see where the fierce hatred between Ethnic Russians and Chechins arises, he gives you Russians who are also victims of the fighting. The issues are so modern - oil, wealth, power, organized crime, religious differences -while the Village seems like any Village in Tolstoy, who is present in the many references to his last novel,Hadji Murad. Everything is woven together so skillfully that nothing can be anticipated yet everything seems preordained in retrospect.
I can't say enough in praise of the skillful use of language. The descriptions of locations pile on the detail like rubble until I could walk into that room or city and find my way. And when he describes the thoughts and feelings of his characters I felt their pain. Masterful writing that is unique yet pays homage to great writers of other countries. One of the best books of any year.
Power Reviewer
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 such a fantastic first novel.

In the decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been many changes. One of the hardest hit areas has been Chechnya and it is here that this story takes place, midst the bombed out streets, the rubble and empty buildings, the black markets, the gun runners and the informers. Everyone is just trying to stay alive while others are trying to get out. It is a country that is up for grabs and it is not safe for anyone. It is about two sisters, one who goes to school in London and the other who stays and when she does get out it is not the way she planned. There are horrors, limbs being cut off, finger legs, many things difficult to read and yet there is humor to and hope. That the one sister will find the other, that the little girl, and you will fall in love with her, will live and prosper. The one thing Marra does, is take places or peripheral characters and tell you how it will look or where they will be years from now.

It is about the connectedness between people, about the vagaries of fate and about survival whatever it takes. It is about the way he treats all his characters with compassion. Quite simply I love the way he writes. I bet you he still gets carded though.
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