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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel…

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel (original 2013; edition 2014)

by Anthony Marra (Author)

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2,2501776,314 (4.25)362
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.
Title:A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel
Authors:Anthony Marra (Author)
Info:Random House Publishing Group (2014), Edition: Reprint, 416 pages
Collections:Your library

Work Information

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013)

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

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» See also 362 mentions

English (171)  Piratical (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (173)
Showing 1-5 of 171 (next | show all)
Marra takes us to Russia from the mid 1990's to 2004, a period of war in Chechnya. He introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters: a young girl who is orphaned, an incompetent physician who is also an incredibly talented artist and his mentally ill wife, a tough surgeon and her heroin addicted sister, an informer and his elderly father. Each character is developed thoroughly in this tale of love, loss and betrayal.

I really cannot recommend this book to every reader because it is only in hindsight that the book becomes a glowing five stars. It is absolutely beautifully written prose, so if you can appreciate a book just for that component, then definitely read it. But the initial 75% is slow reading. The characters are revealed slowly. The timeline and settings are non-linear which makes it harder to read and follow and also less compelling to pick up, once set down.

HOWEVER, for the patient reader, all I can say is that the payoff at the end is really great. The last 25% of the book is a masterpiece of well written literature. The characters lives all begin to intersect and the intersections are both unexpected and yet clearly and cleverly telegraphed in the preceding pages. As everything comes together, the book becomes more of a "can't put it down" read, and at the end, it is just purely satisfying.

For a literary, patient reader, I recommend this book wholeheartedly. You will appreciate the beautiful prose, the well developed characters, the challenging format, and the excellent insight into the human condition. This book has all of the qualities of a classic. If you are looking for a fast paced read about love and war that sucks you in and doesn't let go, look elsewhere.
( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
Want to read based on SF Chronicle Top Shelf reco from Mrs Dallieays Literary and Garden Arts in Berkeley, Aug 18 2013. "Love, compassion, even humor triumph as these characters struggle to maintain their humanity in war-torn Chechnya. Richly textured, deeply philosophical and breathtaking in scope. "
  TeresaBlock | Feb 14, 2023 |
I almost DNF'd this one a couple of times during the first half as it felt like there were too many strings for me to pull together. The story wove in and out of people's lives and back and forth in time. I am beyond thrilled that I hung on as it turned out to be such a magnificent story of strength, love, and the power of choosing to do the right thing. The story grew more and more compelling with every page, right until the tear inducing final moments. It is largely a dark story but I never felt weighed down with despair because as the story progressed Anthony gave me a glimmer of hope that I clung to for dear life. A wonderful intricately plotted story.

CW: heroin addiction, attempted rape, murder, torture, war crimes ( )
  Mrs_Tapsell_Bookzone | Feb 14, 2023 |
I wandered into this book unknowingly. Not the author not the landscape. I left awed, bruised and a complete fan of Marra. Honestly he looks so young in the picture on the jacket cover. How? The insights and the structure of his writing are from an old soul. The senselessness of war, fragility of our internal morals and the resilience of humans is dissected without apology. ( )
  77nanci | Feb 11, 2023 |
I am not even sure where to start with this book. It is complicated and heart-wrenching, and ultimately spectacularly human, in the best way. Briefly the book centers on a small group of Chechens (including an ethnic Russian) and their losses during the two wars. That is loss of basic sustenance for all, but also the erosions of humanity and faith and hope and dignity and sanity, and intellectual curiosity, and beauty and wonder, and any sense of safety. How do people live in that world? Why do they live in that world?

Several people have mentioned in their reviews that they were frustrated not knowing more about the two Chechen wars, but I don't think the particulars of the specific wars matter to the story. This could have been set in China during the Cultural Revolution, Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Indonesia during the days of the death squads in the mid 1960's, Rwanda during the Hutu-led genocide where they sought to eradicate their Tutsi neighbors, or many other historical moments in which desperate people were made ever more desperate and we learned that everyone has a breaking point. This is about seeing people fully. It is about loss and pain and degradation and trust and love. We see life most clearly in the times we are in extremis, and we certainly see it clearly in this book.

The writing here is mostly beautiful, but in the center it bows a bit under the weight of it's own desire to be poetry and to tell the stories of everyone in Chechnya. I felt a sense of remove from the story as a result. The beginning and the end of the book are both nearly perfect and there are individual portions (one that involves torture, that was hideous and perfectly written) that left me breathless but there were portions where Marra lost me. I mentioned to my buddy reader that in the end I was a little grateful that there was a sense of distance as I read because otherwise I would have been absolutely wrecked in the end. So maybe that remove was a good thing? I don't know but I think the whole would have been stronger if Marra had pared things down a bit.

I read this as a buddy read with the lovely and brilliant Jennifer (you can see her review here https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and we have had the most interesting and challenging conversations about the book. (We are still having those conversations -- we both finished today.) The book incited discussion of our personal philosophies, our deep fears, our connections to community, and other things. That part has been brilliant, and I am so grateful to Jennifer for sharing the ride. It really changed the read. I feel I got so much more out of it because of Jennifer's thoughts and questions. I know I was inspired to think about things that I would have not thought about on my own. ( )
  Narshkite | Dec 30, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 171 (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
Marra, Anthonyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blumenbach, UlrichÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacobs, StefanieÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prandino, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was of this death that I was reminded by the crushed thistle in the midst of the plowed field.

-Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murad
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.
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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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.

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