Publisher: Hogarth/Crown Publishing
Publication Date: May 2013
Categories: Literary, Chechnya
In his brilliant, haunting novel, Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa’s house. But when he finds her 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.
What I knew about Chechnya could have fit inside of a teacup. “Oh yea, that place where there’s been a lot of trouble. It’s in Russia, right?” I have a much better grasp of the events there after reading this book. Marra explains the past of this country in an accessible and moving way.
The story here isn’t as much about politics and wars as it is about what happens to the people and their relationships because of such hardships. Marra focuses on the humans caught in these events. How do they continue to carve out a life in a war-torn country? How do they survive the fear? What sacrifices will they make to continue to feel like humans at all?
This is an incredible story about a young girl and the man who decides to take care of her when she is left alone in the world. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is powerful, emotional, and incredibly compelling.
This novel is not to be missed. You’ll be thinking of it long after you’ve read the last page.
Stegner Fellow, Iowa MFA, and winner of The Atlantic’s Student Writing Contest, ANTHONY MARRA has won the Pushcart Prize, the Narrative Prize, and a scholarship to Bread Loaf. He is also the recipient of the 2012 Whiting Writers’ Award. He has studied, resided, and traveled throughout Eastern Europe. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is his first novel.
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