A Constellation of Vital Phenomena Review

Title: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Author: Anthony Marra
Genre: War, Fiction
Publisher: Hogarth

Blurb: 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. 

Me: A striking novel with astonishing prose that made me fall in love with characters in a world I'd never even known existed. 

The Ups: Anthony. Marra. How. Is. Your. Prose. So. Beautiful. 

Reading this prose felt like watching snow fall on a clear, sunny, day. Silently stunning but also honest and brilliant. It runs so smoothly, and is so alive. Many books have the quality of letting the words disappear to push along the story. In this book, the words are unforgettable. They are the story. Each description that makes you pause and gasp, that is the story. 

For their entire lives, even before they met you, your mother and father held their love for you inside their hearts like an acorn holds an oak tree.

 How does this exist. 

I've always though Marx's view on religion was the one thing he got right. Faith is a crutch.'
'If you step on a land mine,' Akhmed said, 'the crutch becomes the leg.'

Oh my god. 

She wanted to hold foreign syllables like mints on her tongue until they dissolved into fluency.

Anthony Marra, I worship you. 

The entire novel is about ordinary people in extraordinary conditions. The book is centered around the lives of Havaa, a small girl whose father is taken by the government, Akhmed, her neighbor who saves her, and Sonja, the genius doctor whose sister disappeared. Their neighbors, Ramzan, the traitor, and Khassan, his father who cannot live with the shame of his son, also share the quality of just trying to live in an unimaginable world.  

The conditions of war make their cases unique, but the prose also acts to show how just the act of living, and loving, is extraordinary. Nothing is cliche, or cheesy, rather, the book doesn't just tell you again that love is more powerful than all odds, it makes you believe it. 

Besides being thrown together in unexpected circumstance, and sharing the sorrow of a familiar world crumbling to their feet, the characters are so concrete. All of them have evident flaws, but they try to give the most they can in their own ways. Akhmed half-abandons his disabled wife, but he draws beautiful portraits of lost ones for families and invests all his hope in Havaa's future. Sonja is cold and reserved, but doesn't turn away a single patient and never stops working despite coping with the disappearance of her sister. Khassan is a failed writer and father, but shows kindness to the dogs of the village. 

I also really appreciated that Marra wrote such a stunning story about Chechnya, a place I'd never bothered to learn about. The entire time reading I was horrified that these atrocities were happening in 2004. The book forced me to do my research about the Second Chechen war, to open my mind to lives I'd never considered. 

The Downs: I don't know if it's because the book only technically covered 5 days in time, or because I was dreading the ending to come for a large part of the book, but for some reason, the end didn't feel like a solid conclusion. It left me unable to face my reaction head-on, because I still wanted something more. 
"We wear clothes, and speak, and create civilizations, and believe we are more than wolves. But inside us there is a word we cannot pronounce and that is who we are.”

“Life: a constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.”

Rating: 5 kisses! 

No comments:

Post a Comment