A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
     Photo by Reedhima Mandlik

    I told myself when I started this book that all the quotes on the cover simply weren’t true. There was no way this book would make me shed a tear.

    A quarter of the way into the book, I thought I had won. It was already 100 pages too long – even the characters seemed to be tired of themselves. Then I hit the chapter that rips to shreds the veil over the reader’s eyes.

    Suddenly I saw life for what it really is: chaotic, unpredictable, unfair, where hope is a precious commodity, and I cried.

    Anthony Marra’s brilliant first novel unlocks more truth than you thought could ever fit into 379 pages.

    Havaa, a young, brilliant girl in Chechnya, loses everything she knows to be true and good when her father, Dokka, is taken by the Feds one night – an occurrence that has become almost commonplace during the second Chechen war. Akhmed, a neighbor and friend of Dokka, whisks her away to temporary safety. She takes only her mysterious blue suitcase.

    Other characters include Sonja, Chechnya’s most brilliant doctor but the most drained of compassion; Dokka, whose kindness we can only trust through tales from others colored by grief and loss; Khassan, the brilliant historian whose voice is extinguished time and time again by the various governments trying to rewrite history as it is happening; Ramzan, Khassan’s son and the Draco Malfoy of the novel; and finally, Natasha, the mysterious woman whose full story is somehow unimportant and yet intriguing all the same.

    A Constellation of Vital Phenomena hops through time between chapters. It is as if each chapter is a thought sparked from the first, a memory that sprouts from the omniscient narrator. The novel features characters with important flaws, together creating the story of a village hit by an unwanted and merciless war. Houses are burned, neighbors turn their backs on each other and still the message that courses through these characters’ lives is the same: humanity can both save and destroy your soul.

    This novel will always be relevant. Marra has a unique way of fast forwarding to their future and explaining their pasts in the same breath. He captures how the most unnoticeable sound and the tiniest gestures can impact someone’s life.

    Fair warning: in this book, time is not linear. Many unrelated loose ends are tied, but the important ones can sometimes be left to dangle. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena takes some time getting into and some willpower to push through for readers used to the faster-paced, less frustrating books, but is still an incredible read. This book unlocks the truths of being, the small things we take for granted, and the miracle that is life.

    Time taken: The book was around 400 pages, and took me about 3-4 days to read.

    Worth reading? Without a doubt. It’s long, but certainly worth your time.


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