Published by Crown Publishing Group on 5/7/2013
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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena begins in a small, war-torn village in Chechnya in 2004. Eight-year-old Havaa has been left alone following her father’s capture by Russian forces. Her neighbor, Akhmed, takes her to the town’s shell of a hospital, where he makes an agreement with the remaining doctor, Sonja, to help him care for the young girl. The novel weaves back to 1994 to trace the roots of the Chechen Wars and the personal histories of its characters, which wind up being more connected than they realize.
Anthony Marra’s prose stunned me from the first sentence and didn’t let go. With perfect balance, he is able to create an incredible picture of a place very few readers are familiar with, while also finding specific, unique voices for each of his characters. From the start, I was struck by Havaa’s snappy wit and bold charm. In the face of an impossible situation, her attitude quickly made her one of my favorite characters of the year.
“Her father was the face of her morning and night, he was everything so saturating Havaa’s world that she could no more describe him than she could air.”
After introducing his characters, Marra follows them back to different points in the Chechen Wars from 1994 – 2004. Rather than feeling disjointed, the story reads like a fluid journey that slowly reveals the binding, eventually heartbreaking, threads uniting his cast to one another.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a gorgeous debut revolving around a modern war that is written like a historical classic. If this is Anthony Marra’s starting point, it’s hard to imagine how far he will go.