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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  48,904 ratings  ·  6,693 reviews
A brilliant debut novel that brings to life an abandoned hospital where a tough-minded doctor decides to harbor a hunted young girl, with powerful consequences.

In the final days of December 2004, in a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa hides in the woods when her father is abducted by Russian forces. Fearing for her life, she flees with their neighbor Ak
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Hogarth (first published May 7th 2013)
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Debra I loved this book! The writing was beautiful. The engrossing story was heartbreaking, uplifting, sad, and confirmed the best in people in terrible sit…moreI loved this book! The writing was beautiful. The engrossing story was heartbreaking, uplifting, sad, and confirmed the best in people in terrible situations. I look forward to more from this author.(less)

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Jeanette (Again)
The history of ethnic strife in Chechnya is long and confusing. Anthony Marra bypasses the facts and figures and takes us directly into the lives of ordinary people trying to make a meaningful existence amid the rubble and death and ongoing violence. Living in a state of constant trauma changes all the rules. Young and old, ethnic Russians and Chechen Muslims, the characters' lives intersect in such a way that they cannot hate each other with the intensity prescribed by their ancestors.

With a co
Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Verbose and mundane in tone but—somewhat?—enlightening to a reader unfamiliar with Chechen history.

Recently mesmerized by a stunning debut, one that made me step back and look at the people in my life a little more appreciatively, I found myself craving something along the same lines—a story with a deep and resounding message. Having seen a few comparisons made between A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and A Place for Us, in weight of the story, not necessarily style, I thought this would be
This beautiful and haunting novel is one of my favorite books of 2013. It takes place in post-war Chechnya, but don't be alarmed if you don't know much about the Chechen conflict with Russia — the rich storytelling and the gorgeous prose will draw you in, and by the end of the book you could captivate an audience with these wartime stories.

But first, you must meet Havaa, a precocious little girl whose father was just taken by federal forces, probably never to be seen again. Havaa ran into the w
Aug 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As well as being the most cleverly structured novel I’ve read all year A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon also features some of the most memorable characters. Ostensibly the novel is set in Chechnya though in many ways the novel depicts a generic modern war and the terrifying lawlessness that prevails in an invaded country. I have to say I learnt next to nothing about the Chechen wars. Marra uses an invented town in the novel and at times you feel he’s also using an invented country.

As with mo
Em Lost In Books
I picked this book for my “read an award winner” challenge. After reading the blurb, I knew this is going to be a sad story but what I didn’t know was that it was going to be this disappointing. So many glowing reviews made me think that it was going to be a book that I would going to remember for a very very long time, that too in a good way.

Story revolves around Akhmed who is taking care of his bedridden wife, but has to leave her behind to take his neighbor’s daughter, Havaa, to local hospita
Violet wells
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Anthony Marra’s Chechnya is every bit as bleak and brutal as the post-apocalyptic world Cormac McCarthy creates in The Road. Life is valued by the governing powers as cheaply as in the Nazi concentration camps. The novel isn’t so much about the wars in Chechnya per se as how individuals relate to each other when law and order has been perverted out of all recognition and they only have their own moral compass as a guide.

The novel features eight characters who will all have a bearing on each oth
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
We all know, as William Tecumseh Sherman once noted, that “War is Hell!” Later, Jean-Paul Sartre concluded that “Hell is other people.” It therefore stands to reason that war is other people. Good thing for me that it's about others because what Marra described in this book sounded awful. We got chopped off fingers, burned down houses, torture-induced ratting, and a whole host of other atrocities. It was set in Chechnya in 2004 with much of the story backfilled from the prior decade of war. Russ ...more
Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
Upon starting this book I had heard of Chechnya. I couldn't point it out on a map though. Or even have told you what part of the world it was in.

This book takes you there. Not just in mind..but in spirit also. The author states he chose to write about this area after hearing about the death of journalist Anna Polikovskaya from her reporting she did from Chechnya. He read up on the non-fiction reports he could find from the area. I'm glad he did it. My eyes would have glazed over from the eno
May 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michael by: Booknblues
I loved this portrait of ordinary people doing their extraordinary best under the duress of war in Chechnya. Their human spirit shines through like the grass that grows in the cracks of a sidewalk. I was inspired with Marra’s ability to portray how in the face of war’s devastation, people focus their purpose on whatever family members or shreds of community they retain, and when even that is gone, they forge a virtual family.

Most of the story takes place in a few days in 2004, with flashbacks t
4.5 Stars

“When they took him, he held your name right there in his chest, and you were with him, even if you didn't know it. When he reached the end, he did not die. He called your name and began to live in you.”

’A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ is Anthony Marra’s debut novel. If you’ve read this, then you’ll understand how unfathomable that seems to me, and likely so to most people when they’ve just finished reading this.

Set in a snow-covered village in Chechnya, The Chechen Republic, a
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

December 4th, 2013: This is not on the New York Times' Ten Best Books of 2013 but it should have been.

In a fantastic profile of the writer Colum McCann in yesterday's New York Times Magazine, the writer sat with a class of high school students from Newtown:

"He told them about an organization he recently helped found, Narrative4, which brings together kids from different places — sometimes directly contentious places, sometimes just places with their own hardships — and how over a span of days t
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am in awe; Anthony Marra has a rare gift with words.

Marra tells his story set in Chechnya, a country ravaged by wars and occupied by foreign forces. It is the story of a girl who has lost her parents and of the man who saves her and the woman who gives her a place to stay. But it is also so much more. It is a book about resilience in the face of indescribable horror. It is a book about human connection and about how little acts of kindness can create more kindness. It is a book about forgivene
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that made me pause, reflect and pause again. To say this was an excellent book would be an understatement. This is a story about death, grief, hope and joy. The story takes place in worn torn Chechny and flashes back over the characters lives during 5 precious days. It begins with the horror of a father, Dokka, taken violently away by the Feds during the middle of the night. He saves his 8 year old daughter, Haava, by forcing her out into the black of night with her already packed ...more
Jan 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every now and then, a book comes along that restores my faith in the future of the novel all over again. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is such a book.

How can a debut novelist write like this lyrically and searingly? Anthony Marra has “the gift” and his work is more assured than writers who have toiled for years.

I’d like to say I was immediately captured by his novel, but alas, that wouldn’t be true. My lack of familiarity with war-torn Chechnya – indeed, with Russian history – distanced me
Ron Charles
Anthony Marra’s first novel, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” is a flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles.

Go ahead and sneer at the thin atmosphere of America’s MFA programs, but this Washington-born graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is a testament to the vibrancy of contemporary fiction. Here, in fresh, graceful prose, is a profound story that dares to be as tender as it is ghastly, a story about desperate lives in a remote land that will quickly seem impo
I know how I felt while reading this book, but why? Why did I constantly want to do anything else but listen? Why near the conclusion did I just listen to get to the end?

This book is set in a small Chechen village in 2004, thus during the Second Chechen War. The story is told through numerous flashbacks. It is of course about the ravages of war. It is grim reading, and until the end there is little that inspires any hope. Although the author does infuse the story with humor, it is ironic humor,
Larry H
If you read as much as I do (or even if you don't), you're bound to come across a book that is hailed by literary critics and readers as one of the greatest things ever, but no matter how much you try and read it and are determined to love it, it just doesn't click for you. I know that happens most often with the classics, but it certainly happens with "regular" fiction and nonfiction as well.

Anthony Marra's debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, is such a book for me. Reviews have hai
“Time became more important the closer to death one was, so an extra few hours to make peace with the world were worth more than years.”
This is Marra’s debut novel, and in it we see his queerly outsized talent and deep knowledge of human motivation and possibility. Where did he get the knowledge from which he created this book, and how did he come to know it? In what he calls his Bibliography, Marra credits Anna Politkovskaya’s A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya, Åsne Seierstad’s T
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 ever so tragically poignant stars
My reviews can be found here: https://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpres...

“Life: a constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.”

War and its aftermath, lives and their destruction, land and its carnage, and the people who are left behind to try to pick up the pieces of lives trying to hold on to something, anything that will prove that you are more than the carbon you leave behind. Akhmed, Khassan, Ramzan
Rae Meadows
May 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Oh, what a joy to read a fully-realized, beautifully written, totally engrossing novel. I haven't read what GR friends have said about this book--I'm coming to it a little later than most--which made it all the more of a pleasure. The novel brings to life the cruel absurdities of war with moments of light and humanity. I knew little of Chechnya, and Marra does a masterful job of supplying enough information without weighing down the narrative. I have a few small quibbles, the first being the ove ...more
Elyse  Walters
Jul 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
3.7 rating for me!

This story is set in Chechyna between 1994 and 2004: Interesting 'wartime' history --(I actually wish this book had developed more visuals of the Chechen 'culture' than it did) --as I didn't know much about clashing cultures of the Chechnian State within Russia.

The history was disturbing --(WAR is DISTURBING) --
The writing style is a combination of extensive flashbacks --
And...'Jumping Ahead' (sometimes decades), to relay what will happen to characters in the future.

I had mix
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I originally learned about this book when it was longlisted for the National Book Award. It didn't make the shortlist, but personally I would have traded it with the Lahiri, since that book had similar themes to her previous works, and this felt new.

Phew. About halfway through, I had to take a break from this book. It is an intense read of a too-recent war-torn Chechnya, from a perspective not quite the same as what we were hearing in American news.

The author moves backwards and forwards in ti
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
Glenn Sumi
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 because this is an exceptional first (!) novel

I’d never really understood the conflicts in post-Soviet Russia and Chechnya, but Anthony Marra’s heavily researched and deeply moving novel taught me a lot and got me caught up in the lives of a handful of characters simply trying to survive those times.

Over five days in a small town in Chechnya, the fates of several people – including two very different physicians (one brilliant, the other hopeless), a precocious eight-ye
Brenda - Traveling Sisters Book Reviews
I started off lost in a coulee reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomena with seven of my Traveling Sisters and some of us really got lost in this story. We all found our comfy spot to read this and were drawn into this densely vivid heavy in-depth plot that demanded our full attention. As life pulled some of the sisters away from the story they became really lost with their focus and had to leave the coulee and return back to read this at another time. Leaving three sisters and myself in a cou ...more
Dec 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Teresa by: Cheryl
I'm not saying I didn't like the beginning of this novel, but when I arrived at page 139, I became hooked, absolutely hooked. The passage (actually one long sentence) is about a younger brother along with his family (whom the readers never see again) at the village doctor's (a better artist than he is a doctor) to describe his 'disappeared' older brother in order for the doctor to draw his portrait. The lyricism of the long sentence is what captivated me at the time, but it also encapsulates muc ...more
Yet again I am left baffled by the glowing reviews and the hype. This book proved tedious, convoluted and an insomniac's dream.

There was no plot, at least not a discernible one for the majority of the book. There are tedious, long-winded entries of characters that end up giving little to the overall book. There is repeated foreshadowing in the variety of "in seven years he will become a [insert profession here]," and mind you these little inputs added nothing to the main characters or the story
Julie Christine
Updating this review 10/28/15. Wishing I could read this again for the first time.

In a hospital in Volchansk, Chechnya, on a boarded-up gash where a window once sat, a crude mural depicts the city as it had been before it was reduced to rubble. Looking at the mural the viewer is spared, for as long as she can pretend, the reality that the open space would offer: a void of destruction and death.

In his astonishing debut, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra paints a mural of war so
Richard Derus
Jul 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: 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, t
Mar 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2017
For a young American writer to choose Chechnya as the subject for a first novel shows commendable ambition, and for the most part he gets away with it. I had high expectations of this book after seeing a few recommendations from friends here.

I do have some reservations. When dealing with such unpleasant subject matter, the tone must be a tricky balancing act, particularly given the amount of humour that pervades it. I found the frequent asides about the futures of the surviving characters rathe
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Play Book Tag: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra - 4 stars 9 27 Nov 17, 2018 03:50AM  

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ANTHONY MARRA is the winner of a Whiting Award, Pushcart Prize, and the Narrative Prize. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John Leonard Prize and the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction, as well as the inaugural 2014 Carla Furstenberg Cohen Fiction Award. Marra’s novel was a National Book Award long list selection as well as a shortlist ...more

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