A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel
by Anthony Marra
Hogarth, 2013. 384 pgs.
This is the best book I have read this year, and in a long time really . This riveting debut novel (it's difficult to believe this is Marra's first) is a gut wrenching, deeply compassionate, and sweeping tale of love, betrayal, death and life set against the back drop of war torn Chechnya spanning several decades. Sonja, the solitary and bereft surgeon spends her days amputating legs of land mine victims in an otherwise empty hospital and continuously searches for her sister Natasha. Akhmed the incompetent village doctor who wishes he had studied art endeavors to save the life of the girl Havaa whose father has just been taken in the night to a prison camp.
Slowly, these and other beautifully wrought characters weave together to form nuanced tapestry that illustrates both the horrors and shared humanity we are driven to in the face and wake of extreme trauma and loss. Marra does not allow the reader to fully condemn or laud any of the characters despite their moments of huge failing and huge greatness. His ability to deliver characters so whole, who you come to know so intimately, is a true gift that left me astounded and moved. This book was not an easy read, it has gruesome, difficult to bear content, but will stay with me a long long time.