A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.
Two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together. “On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” Havaa, eight years old, hides in the woods and watches the blaze until her neighbor, Akhmed, discovers her sitting in the snow. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, and there is no safe place to hide a child in a village where informers will do anything for a loaf of bread, but for reasons of his own, he sneaks her through the forest to the one place he thinks she might be safe: an abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded. Though Sonja protests that her hospital is not an orphanage, Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. (blurb from Goodreads)
Rating: R, 5 stars
Trigger warnings: violence, torture, sexual assault, sex slavery
I’ve tried mentally writing this review several times, but I keep getting caught up in, “AAAAAH, it’s so beautiful.” Seriously, this novel captivated me with it’s writing, and with the way it wove everything together. I love novels that leave me actively wondering how everything is connected until, one by one, pieces start falling into place, and I am able to draw conclusions, not because the author is sloppy, but because it’s completely intentional. I love this book so very much.
I will admit, though, that for as much as I loved this book, there were moments I was confused. I’m not sure if this a weakness of the book or merely a moment where my education is lacking: I really felt like I was missing so much context for the situation in Chechnya. For the first few chapters, I kept double-checking the year the book was set, because I was so surprised that things in Chechnya were that bad in 2004 and I had never heard about it. Again, that could easily just be a problem with my education, but it was disconcerting to feel like I had no contextual background.
I really admire the way that Marra wove together so many threads from the lives of different characters into a whole tapestry. Throughout the first half of the novel, there were many times when I wondered where everything could possibly be going, and then miraculously it came together to paint a lovely and sad whole picture. Where I writing an analytical paper on this book, I might write paragraphs about how his well-rounded characters capture the human condition and reveal the ties between all of us. But since this is just a review, I’ll leave it at that.
I wish there was more I could form into cohesive thoughts, but I’m still too emotionally close to this book. If you can handle violence, including sexual violence, and have even the remotest interest in literary fiction, I urge you to read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. It truly is a beautiful book.