Teresa's Reviews > A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
541416
's review

it was amazing
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 much of what else is also wonderful about this book, e.g., the omniscient voice that many times gives us a glimpse of the future and the author's handling of time, in general.

As to the latter, it's only as you keep reading that you realize how impressive that handling of time is, and how it reflects one of the themes. The characters sometimes think of an event, matter-of-factly, that's not immediately explained to the reader. Eventually, the writer takes us back in time, maybe one year, maybe seven, and then we know, too. The technique creates tension in the reader that merely hints at (thank goodness for us) the tension felt in the daily lives of these characters, who are not participants in the wars, but villagers and a few remaining city-dwellers trying to survive as best they can.

The one torture scene is like a feverish nightmare that feels even longer that it actually is, one you want to read between your fingers, but the book needs it to be there and you are grateful for it being only the one: it stays in your mind and stands for many more. In my reading of it, I could only think of it as also being an indictment against the dangerous territory the U.S. seems to have found its way toward as well.

When I first read about this book, I found it eerie that its release date was so soon -- less than a month -- after the Boston Marathon bombing, which was orchestrated by two self-identified Chechen brothers. Perhaps, I thought, this novel could shed some light on their mindset. That would be a tall order, of course, and not within the novel's scope by any stretch of the imagination, but a light is shed on a people who were forced from their homeland (many, of course, were killed), allowed to return over a decade later, then persecuted again. The tragic history of ethnic purging once again seems all too familiar and absurd.
55 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

December 18, 2013 – Shelved
Started Reading
December 26, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-36 of 36 (36 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala You make this book sound very interesting, Teresa.


Cheryl Great review, Teresa, glad that you also enjoyed the book. It's a tremendous debut; I hope his next ones will be as impressive.


Teresa It is interesting, Fionnuala, very much so.

Thanks, Cheryl. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for him from now on.


Merilee Just ordered it on Kindle;-)


message 5: by Teresa (last edited Dec 28, 2013 12:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Teresa I look forward to hearing how you like it, Merilee.


Teresa I should've added in my review that this is probably a 5-star book, but I must be still under The Goldfinch effect.


Merilee Just got that one, too.


Teresa Merilee wrote: "Just got that one, too."

What a great experience it was! I envy your reading it for the first time. ;)


Margitte tragic repeat of history over and over. Loved your review!


Teresa Margitte wrote: "tragic repeat of history over and over. Loved your review!"

Yes, it's quite discouraging, isn't it. Thanks!


message 11: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Thanks for another great review, Teresa. I hope to get to this before long. The news today is headed by stories of terror in Russia, probably by Chechen rebels. The cycle continues.


Teresa Thanks, Sue. I think you will really like this one. Yes, what's being speculated in today's news stories is a continuance of the time the novelist (who basically ends his novel in 2004) is writing about, though his main characters are not separatist rebels.


James Murphy Great review, Teresa. I love your phrase reading between your fingers. What a great way to express a reaction to a plot development.


message 14: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara Interesting commentary, Teresa.


Teresa Thanks, Murph. Besides feeling like I was reading between my fingers at that page, it also felt as if I was squinting my eyes as I read those sentences.

Thank you, Barbara. There's even more that could be said about this impressive book.


Vivian I had the same issue with the beginning of the novel: had to really force myself to stick with it, until just beyond halfway through. Then was really hooked, and the rest just flew by. So glad I did!


Teresa Thanks for commenting, Vivian, and for the 'like.' I had originally given the book 4 stars, but upon thinking about how masterfully it used 'time,' I just had to up it to 5.


message 18: by Tajma (new)

Tajma I've been on the fence about reading this one, Teresa. I think I'll give it a try if I can get it from the library.


Teresa Just don't give up until you get at least past page 139, Tajma. ;)


message 20: by Tajma (new)

Tajma I promise!


Steve I was just skimming through reviews, and I saw your mention of Page 139. I didn't even have to look up what passage you were referring to. That long, multipage sentence is one of the most beautifully heartbreaking things I've ever read. I was already captivated, but that scene packed an enormous emotional punch.


Teresa Steve wrote: "That long, multipage sentence is one of the most beautifully heartbreaking things I've ever read. I was already captivated, but that scene packed an enormous emotional punch."

I'm in complete agreement, Steve. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


message 23: by Carol (new)

Carol I, too, like your comment "reading between my fingers." I felt exactly what you meant and I haven't even read this book yet. What a vivid comment, Teresa! Great review too.


Teresa Thanks so much, Carol! I don't usually read books that cause me to do that, but this one was definitely worth it.


Sherrie You are the only other person I've seen who commented on the beauty of the page-and-a-quarter/one sentence description of the family of the Chechynian war victims. I was beginning to wonder if I dreamed it. Such a wonderful book.


Teresa I think I will always remember that passage, Sherrie.


Connie Mayo Yes, yes, yes, I knew the passage you were talking about even before I opened the book to check. That more-than-a-page paragraph should be studied in writing classes. The part of it for me that sticks the most is that the brother's last thought before he is shot is about how his parents should have had his portrait made at the same time as his dead older brother's, because "now they would have to make another trip". Just amazing, it so captures the tragedy of being a family in that place, at that time.


Teresa Connie wrote: "The part of it for me that sticks the most is that the brother's last thought before he is ..."

Same for me, Connie. Thanks for letting me know you felt the same about that beautiful passage.


Gabriella I also bookmarked that page, about the two brothers, and kept going back to it, reading it out loud to any person that would listen. What a stunningly beautiful passage.


Teresa Gabriella wrote: "I also bookmarked that page, about the two brothers, and kept going back to it, reading it out loud to any person that would listen. What a stunningly beautiful passage."

It's wonderful to hear you felt the same way, Gabriella.


message 31: by Molly (new) - added it

Molly Mahoney I spent the first 120 pages cursing the book club member who chose this book. Then I would remember I had chosen it?! Perseverance paid off. I will long remember this book. Thx for the post!


Teresa Molly wrote: "I spent the first 120 pages cursing the book club member who chose this book. Then I would remember I had chosen it?! Perseverance paid off. I will long remember this book. Thx for the post!"

Thank you, Molly, for reading my review and leaving me a comment.


Katie Your comment about how impressive the handling of time is in this novel is brilliant, Teresa. I think it's the novel's most admirable achievement and I’m struggling to think of a novel that has done it more artistically.


Teresa Katie wrote: "Your comment about how impressive the handling of time is in this novel is brilliant, Teresa. I think it's the novel's most admirable achievement and I’m struggling to think of a novel that has don..."

Thanks, Katie. I'm off to read your review, which I'm sure is even more brilliant.


Ms.pegasus That passage about the two brothers was one of my favorites as well.


Teresa Ms.pegasus wrote: "That passage about the two brothers was one of my favorites as well."

So memorable -- I still remember it. :)


back to top