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Cover of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Rated 4.17
7,636 ratings

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

By: Anthony Marra

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Imprint: Hogarth

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780770436407

On Sale: | Pages: 400

  • About the Book
  • Reviews
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 extraordinary first novel, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” opens with a disappearance typical of postmodern warfare, cobbled to an image completely alien to it: “On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” This fusion of the desperate with the whimsical sets the tone.... This novel is, among other things, a meditation on the use and abuse of history, and an inquiry into the extent to which acts of memory may also constitute acts of survival.
—New York Times
Marra is not looking to explain the inexplicable. He's not laying out politics, his book does not run on fear or horror. He is, in capturing the experiences that form lives, telling what feels a very real story set in Chechnya. He's done homework, mentioning in an Author's Note sources that include memoir "The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire," by Khassan Baiev and "A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya," by Anna Politkovskaya. A novel is no more the sum of plot points than it is a regurgitation of facts. It is, or should be, a vehicle to share human experience.
—Denver Post
A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA is a spectacular debut novel about endurance and resilience amidst the insanity of war.
—Bookreporter.com
Anthony Marra's first novel, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” is a flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles.... As the elements of this complicated plot begin to align in ways too tragic and moving to anticipate, the past resolves into focus; the future is freighted with anguish but flecked with hope. I haven't been so overwhelmed by a novel in years. At the risk of raising your expectations too high, I have to say you simply must read this book.
—Washington Post
Some good novels catch fire immediately, as if a writer had simply opened a Zippo lighter. Others come into being more gradually. The author cautiously tends to his or her kindling. Anthony Marra's first novel, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” belongs to the second category. It's a slow burn.... Mr. Marra's novel can be sickening reading.... The strange and invigorating thing about Mr. Marra's novel, however, is how much human warmth and comedy he smuggles, like samizdat, into his busy story.... Mr. Marra's humor floats most freely in his dialogue, which is both acidic and surreal. If novel writing does not work out for him, he might easily become a world-class playwright.... I found his novel to be cloying at times, as Mr. Foer's fiction can sometimes be. I was rarely persuaded that I was plunging deeply into Muslim consciousness. There is little religious awareness here. But “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” is ambitious and intellectually restless. It's humane and absurd, and rarely out of touch with the Joseph-Heller-like notion that, as Mr. Marra puts it, “stupidity was the single abiding law of the universe.”
—New York Times
...[a] remarkable debut novel... Life folding in on itself is not only its theme; it forms the book's structure. The action unwinds over five days in 2004, but the story spools backwards again and again, only to spin decades ahead.... Marra manages all this with deftness and improbable humor. This is, from first to last, a novel about love as much as war.
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
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