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Winner of the National Book Critic Circle’s John Leonard Prize
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
National Book Award Longlist Selection
A Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year
An ALA Notable Book of the Year
A Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Books of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
A Library Journal Top 10 Book of the Year
Named one of the Best Books of the Year by:
New York Magazine * Chicago Tribune * Kansas City Star * GQ * NPR * Christian Science Monitor * San Francisco Chronicle * Cleveland Plain Dealer
In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa 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.
For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. But 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. 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.
Now with Extra Libris material, including a reader’s guide and bonus content from the author.
“Mr. Marra is trying to capture some essence of the lives of men and women caught in the pincers of a brutal, decade-long war, and at this he succeeds beautifully….his storytelling impulses are fed by wellsprings of generosity…. [The] ending is almost certain to leave you choked up and, briefly at least, transformed by tenderness.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Remarkable….This is, from first to last, a novel about love as much as war….In the aftermath of Boston, in a world where all our lives are linked more closely than ever before, these are words to hold close.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Marra is an author talented way beyond his years…Dazzling.”
“Marra delicately weaves together several narratives against the backdrop of this bleak, war-ravaged country.… If you’re a fan of beautifully composed, internationally set fiction like The Tiger’s Wife or The Orphan Master’s Son, A Constellation of Vital Phenomenais a worthy next pick. The Whiting Writers’ Award selection committee dubbed Marra’s ambitions “Tolstoyan,” and there could not be a better word to describe his all-too-real cast of characters. This is an exquisite debut.”
“The most moving book I’ve read in years. By writing so beautifully about a tiny village in Chechnya, this 28-year-old Washington native has produced a timeless tragedy about the victims of war.”
“[An] extraordinary first novel…Marra collapses time, sliding between 1996 and 2004 while also detailing events in a future yet to arrive, giving his searing novel an eerie, prophetic aura. All of the characters are closely tied together in ways that Marra takes his time revealing, even as he beautifully renders the way we long to connect and the lengths we will go to endure.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Marra’s debut novel places readers in Chechnya during its decade-long conflict with Russia and offers up an authentic, heartbreaking tale of intertwining relationships during wartime….As he shifts in time through the years of the two Chechen wars, Marra confidently weaves those plots together, and several more besides, giving each character a rich backstory that intersects, often years down the line, with the others….[T]he novel’s tone remains optimistic, and its characters retain vast depths of humanity (and even humor) in spite of their bleak circumstances.”
–Library Journal (starred review)
“It’s hard to think of an American writer who has so convincingly transported readers into the lives of characters as geopolitically distant as the cast of Chechens whose stories Anthony Marra braids together in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Mr. Marra gives us no anchorage in a familiar point-of-view. Instead, he gives us the natives of a peripheral Chechen village, and makes us imagine the world that is their village so convincingly that we forget how remote it is. The novel is a wondrous machine of many moving parts, all whirring together like clockwork, gracefully guiding us backward and forward in time, events unfolding in an order that feels inevitable. His ambitions are Tolstoyan, and he brings stylistic virtuosity to the prose, giving us lyric passages saturated with intelligence and psychological insight. By the end of the novel, we love the characters and grieve with them, and rejoice with the ‘immense, spinning joy’that is the novel’s final note.”
—Whiting Writers’ Awards, Selection Committee
“Powerful, convincing, beautifully realized—it’s hard to believe that A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a first novel. Anthony Marra is a writer to watch and savor.”
—T.C. Boyle, New York Times bestselling author of When the Killing’s Done and The Women
“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular. Not since Everything is Illuminated have I read a first novel so ambitious and fully realized. If this is where Anthony Marra begins his career, I can’t imagine how far he will go.”
—Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto
“Remarkable and breathtaking, Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a spellbinding elegy for an overlooked land engulfed by an oft forgotten war. Set in the all-too-real Chechen conflict, Marra conjures fragile and heartfelt characters whose fates interrogate the very underpinnings of love and sacrifice.”
—Adam Johnson, Pulitzer prize winning author of The Orphan Master’s Son
“Anthony Marra’s fine debut novel reaches tenderly, unflinchingly, into the center of the Chechnyan conflict of the late 1990s. This tale has its roots in shocking brutality, and its beauty in the human redemption that can come from unaccountable human kindness. Whimsies of circumstance, fate, and the ties of family and faith serve to guide the reader and the characters through a richly layered and deeply beautiful journey.”
─Vincent Lam, author of The Headmaster’s Wager