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By Anthony Marra A Constellation of Vital…
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By Anthony Marra A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel (First… (original 2013; edition 2013)

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1,7301406,319 (4.27)284
Member:pickupsticks
Title:By Anthony Marra A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel (First Edition)
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Info:Hogarth (2013)
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:novel

Work details

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013)

Recently added byrena75, Katie80, private library, wpotash, libraryhead, frannyclark42
  1. 20
    The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander (boo-radley)
  2. 10
    The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire by Khassan Baiev (gust)
    gust: Marra baseerde een van zijn hoofdpersonages op deze autobiografie.
  3. 00
    The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  4. 00
    The Angel of Grozny by Åsne Seierstad (gust)
    gust: Marra liet zich naar eigen zeggen door dit journalistieke boekwerk inspireren.
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» See also 284 mentions

English (139)  Piratical (1)  All languages (140)
Showing 1-5 of 139 (next | show all)
For a young American writer to choose Chechnya as the subject for a first novel shows commendable ambition, and for the most part he gets away with it. I had high expectations of this book after seeing a few recommendations from friends here.

I do have some reservations. When dealing with such unpleasant subject matter, the tone must be a tricky balancing act, particularly given the amount of humour that pervades it. I found the frequent asides about the futures of the surviving characters rather irritating, and I think it does try to squeeze too many elements and too much research in to be entirely convincing, and there is quite a lot of writerly trickery.

For all that, there is a powerful human story at the centre of the book and it manages to maintain a degree of hope, and the narrative is never less than readable. A very promising debut. ( )
  bodachliath | Sep 14, 2018 |
I am in absolute awe of Anthony Marra. I put this novel on my to-read list as soon as I finished The Tsar of Love and Techno, because I had loved that one so much. If anything, this one is better. I became so completely invested in these characters and their fates that I felt myself breathing heavily in places. It is always satisfying for me when an author puts a human face on a place or historic event that has felt remote to that point.

War, any war, is a difficult subject. The war in Chechnya is a war of ethnicity and it was as brutal and unforgiving as any war has ever been. That Marra was able to look at it so clearly, without flinching, and still make it seem to be waged by humans rather than machines, is remarkable.

His description of a younger brother meeting the fate of his older brother was chilling and an all too real example of this ability to humanize horror:

the youngest brother...is the one who six months later would be disappeared in the back of a truck, as his older brother was, who would know the landfill through his blindfold and gag by the rich scent of clay, as his older brother had known, whose fingers would be wound with the electrical wires that had welded to his older brother's bones, who would stand above a mass grave his brother had dug and would fall in it as his older brother had, though taking six more minutes and four more bullets to die, who would be buried an arm’s length of dirt above his brother and whose bones would find over time those of his older brother, and so, at that indeterminate point in the future, answer his mother’s prayer that her boys find each other, wherever they go…

Marra follows the lives of a doctor and her sister, women of Russian descent, born in Chechnya; three Chechen men, who are caught up in this conflict by virtue of merely being Chechen citizens; and one eight-year old girl, whose survival becomes the focus of everyone involved. These people live with constant fear and uncertainty. There is truly no life at all but the waiting, the constant waiting, for the axe to fall.

”So they will come for me.” For years he’d lived with the fear of murder, torture, or disappearance, as all men of his age did, and it was the senselessness that truly frightened him; that the monumental finality of death could come arbitrarily was more terrifying than the eternity to follow.

The disappearances must have been the worst of it all. To have those you know and love just evaporate into thin air, walk out the door and never return, or be seized violently, with fates forever unknown, must be the worst situation imaginable. I shuttered as much for those bereft of their loved ones as for the loved ones themselves.

This is not an easy read, it is not a pleasurable read, but it is an emotionally charged read and a story that touches every important issue in life: love, family, sacrifice, betrayal, and what people will do for love, from a sense of obligation, or because they have reached a breaking point.
( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
le sigh. sad yet amazing. ( )
  nheredia05 | Jun 12, 2018 |
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena I admired this book more than I loved it. Anthony Marra writes beautifully (although some passages seem a shade overdone) and many sections are very moving. Marra is also a great observer of details. In particular, I liked these moments from early in the book:
 

And now, in the morning, as he tightened the orange scarf around her neck, he found a fingerprint on the girl's cheek, and, because it could have been Dokka's, he left it.

 

After crossing herself, she lay back on the divan and squirted a cool puddle of hand lotion from the bottle she'd brought from London. Invariably she would apply too much, and her hands would be slick and shiny in the candlelight as she asked for another pair with which to share the excess.

 
On the other hand, though, the plot mechanics were a bit too neat and relied too heavily on coincidence; the characters' lives all fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Several revelations in the book fell flat for me because I was shaking my head at their implausibility.
 
A bigger problem is that none of the characters ever really feel like real people. In particular, Havaa does not sound remotely like any eight-year-old girl I've ever known; but really, none of the characters seems to have much personality. Given the epic sweep of the story, this isn't the fatal flaw it might be in another book; Marra isn't trying to write an intricate character study. But it made it hard for me to connect with the book the way I might have.
 
Still, there's a lot to like here, and I'm certainly glad I read it. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
Wow, just wow. This book - beautifully written - is so full of depth and power that it's hard to adequately express my feelings about it. The characters, complex and vividly drawn, are unforgettable. The moments of creativity and love in the midst of unspeakable horror remind me why we live. What does one read after a book like this? ( )
  meredk | May 26, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 139 (next | show all)
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.
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anthony Marraprimary authorall editionscalculated
Blumenbach, UlrichÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacobs, StefanieÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prandino, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
It was of this death that I was reminded by the crushed thistle in the midst of the plowed field.

-Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murad
Dedication
To my parents and sister
First words
On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.
Quotations
She was harder to pin down than the last pickle in the jar.
Life: a constellation of vital phenomena---organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.
“A lizard fucks a crab and nine months later a turtle pops out. It’s called evolution.”  (Abu’s brother - p. 108)
“And where are the books I asked for?”
“...A third cousin in the West is asking for them from Amazon.”
“What’s that?”
“I haven’t any idea.”
“Then in London you will be an au pair. Do you know what that is? It’s a French word. It means you will watch the children while the parents are at work.”

“So I will be a grandmother?” (p. 196)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0770436404, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:53 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In a rural village in December 2004 Chechnya, a failed doctor Akhmed harbors the traumatized 8-year-old daughter of a father abducted by Russian forces and treats a series of wounded rebels and refugees while exploring the shared past that binds him to the child.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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