A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra takes us into the lives of several individuals and families in war-torn Chechnya. Set in the mid-1990s and early twenty-first century. the book is a history lesson as well as a masterfully written story. The novel begins as an eight-year-old girl named Havaa watches her father’s abduction and the destruction of her family’s home. A neighbor named Akhmed takes the girl to a hospital, hoping to find a safe place for her to stay. Sonja, an overworked surgeon at the hospital, reluctantly agrees to shelter Havaa at the hospital.
In the book, Anthony Marra gives us insight into the lives of the characters by skillfully switching perspectives and decades. Although the story of Havaa, Akhmed and Sonja takes place over five days, Marra provides a detailed look into the lives and histories of the characters, their families and their neighbors. The reader witnesses the horrors of the war in Chechnya through the eyes of ordinary people as they struggle to survive and keep their loved ones alive. Marra has written the narration and descriptive passages in haunting language that is alternates between joy and heartbreak.
As I read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, I often forgot where I was. The characters and the landscape are vivid and believable, making the violence and terror just as real. I am sure that this book will become a classic that will memorialize the war in Chechnya and all who lived and died at the time. I highly recommend this book, not only as a great novel, but as an opportunity to learn about Chechnya, its people, and the resiliency of the human spirit.
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books for this review.