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A Constellation of Vital Phenomenaby Anthony Marra
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Life during wartime Chechnya is not easy to read about, but this novel is too beautiful to be depressing, and Marra's skilled plotting pushes you forward heart-first. This is my pick for the best under-the-radar book of 2013.
Synopses & Reviews
A Washington Post Top Ten Book of the Year * A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
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.
Now with Extra Libris material, including a reader’s guide and bonus content from the author.
“A flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles....Here, in fresh, graceful prose, is a profound story that dares to be as tender as it is ghastly, a story about desperate lives in a remote land that will quickly seem impossibly close and important....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.” Ron Charles, Washington Post
“Extraordinary...a 21st century War and Peace....Marra seems to derive his astral calm in the face of catastrophe directly from Tolstoy.” Madison Smartt Bell, New York Times Book Review
“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is ambitious and intellectually restless....[Marra is] a lover not a fighter, a prose writer who resembles the Joseph Heller of Catch-22 and the Jonathan Safran Foer of Everything Is Illuminated.” Dwight Garner, New York Times
“Over and over again, this is an examination of the ways in which many broken pieces come together to make a new whole. In exquisite imagery, Marra tends carefully to the twisted strands of grace and tragedy....Everything in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena...is dignified with a hoping, aching heartbeat.” Ramona Ausubel, San Francisco Chronicle
“A powerful tale....The moment Akhmed walks into the hospital with Havaa…rivals anything Michael Ondaatje has written in its emotional force....There are many reasons to read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena...to marvel at the lack of fear in a writer so young. To read a book that can bring tears to your eyes and force laughter from your lungs....But the one I kept returning to, the best reason to read this novel, is that this story reminds us how senseless killing often wrenches kindness through extreme circumstances.”John Freeman, Boston Globe
“[A Constellation of Vital Phenomena] pulls together blown-out bits of a world turned inside-out to create a brutal form of beauty from chaos...its prose is also ruefully funny in places and littered throughout with dazzling poetry.” John Barron, Chicago Tribune
“Marra is trying to capture some essence of the lives of men and women caught in the pincers of a brutal, decade-long war, and at this he succeeds beautifully...his storytelling impulses are fed by wellsprings of generosity...[the] ending is almost certain to leave you choked up and, briefly at least, transformed by tenderness.” Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“Extraordinary....Marra collapses time, sliding between 1996 and 2004 while also detailing events in a future yet to arrive, giving his searing novel an eerie, prophetic aura. All of the characters are closely tied together in ways that Marra takes his time revealing, even as he beautifully renders the way we long to connect and the lengths we will go to endure.” Booklist (starred review)
“[A]n authentic, heartbreaking tale of intertwining relationships during wartime....As he shifts in time through the years of the two Chechen wars, Marra confidently weaves those plots together, and several more besides, giving each character a rich backstory that intersects, often years down the line, with the others....[T]he novel’s tone remains optimistic, and its characters retain vast depths of humanity (and even humor) in spite of their bleak circumstances.” Library Journal (starred review)
“A complex debut...[Marra writes] with elegant details about the physical and emotional destruction of occupation and war.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Anthony Marra is the New York Times bestselling author of a National Book Awards Longlist selection, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. He 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. Marra holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He has lived and studied in Eastern Europe, and now resides in Oakland, CA.
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