A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra- Blog Review

Published in 2013 this was Anthony Marra’s debut novel, and one of my favorites last year.  This was the second novel I read during 2013 which was written by an American author and each setting was unfamiliar.  Adam Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Orphan Master’s Son was set in North Korea.  Anthony Marra’s book takes place in Chechnya.  Both are creative masterpieces.  Chechnya was thrust into the forefront of our consciousness as a result of the Boston Marathon bombing.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a great title for a book, with three powerful words strung together and yet providing no clue as to what the book is about.  The story mainly takes place over five days in 2004 during the second Chechen war.  However, every other chapter moves back a decade in time, and there are flash-forwards into the future.

The title is taken from a Russian medical dictionary for the word “life.”  Ah life, it is a constellation of vital phenomena isn’t it.  From the dust jacket:  “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 the 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.

Reviewed by Larry



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