In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.
For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.
About the Author
Anthony Marra is the winner of a Whiting Award, Pushcart Prize, and the Narrative Prize. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John Leonard Prize and the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction, as well as the inaugural 2014 Carla Furstenberg Cohen Fiction Award. He received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where he now teaches as a Jones Lecturer in Fiction. He has lived and studied in Eastern Europe, and now resides in California. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is his first novel.
This novel is filled with rich storytelling and engaging prose. It looks at difficult wartimes in Chechnya and brings to light the struggles the country and its people have faced. It skilfully intertwines various plots and intersects the stories of well-developed characters. Very difficult circumstances are explored, but the reader is not too bogged down, due to the optimism and humor the characters maintain.
The war in Chechnya is a nearly untouched topic in fiction, but that is not what makes Anthony Marra’s book so powerful. Many authors can (and do) rail against the horrors of war, but few have transformed such savagery into something miraculous. Like a magician, Marra has converted a relentlessly traumatic story into a near religious experience, into a book of praise for those rare and unrecorded acts of love, performed under the cruellest of circumstances.
If we are to come close to comprehending human complexity, we need to have novels as good as this to read.
Marra brings an elegant focus to an often ignored conflict and reveals, according to one character, “this sliver of humanity the world seemed determined to forget”.
In his touching and intimate first novel set in post-war Chechnya, Marra weaves together a detailed plot that brings the reader inside and reveals the ultimate power of human connections.