The only recent parallel that comes to mind is the maturity of Jennifer duBois’ debut A Partial History of Lost Causes. Yet in the very act of aligning a creative embrace of happenstance with the cycle of the seasons there is an article of faith.’. Fearing the loss of other mineral-rich territories, and facing internal unrest, President Yeltsin besieged the Chechen capital, Grozny. Eggers told the story of his parents’ deaths with self-mocking grandeur; while Smith’s group of angry Muslim youths in London laboured under the acronym KEVIN. This sense of wanting to be more than a book applies just as aptly to Marra’s novel. After 41 villagers are disappeared one night – the event that triggers his wife’s dementia – Akhmed paints their portraits (adding a wart to the nose of a woman who never paid for his obstetric services) and nails them up around the village. Around a third would die en route. update Article was updated Aug. 11, … Acting on a rumor from a refugee who passed through months earlier, he takes Havaa to an all-but-abandoned hospital in a nearby town that looks “like a city made of shoeboxes and stamped into the ground by a petulant child.”. Some are linked in other ways: Natasha, for example, has met Dokka not once but twice – and has read Khassan’s book. Praise for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena “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 impossibly close and important. With no pretensions to lighting the way out of our current mess, Watts guides us into the thicket, leaves us in an anxious twilight between the material and the figurative. Review of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, which covers the recent conflict in Chechnya, review by John Barron In a chilling act of Orwellian naming, Russia’s troops, often comprising the dregs of its prisons, have established ‘filtration points’, interrogation centres set up in the republic’s decaying industrial infrastructure, where Chechens are tortured and released, or, more often, disappeared. Currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, Marra holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has won The Atlantic’s Student Writing Contest, the Pushcart Prize and the Narrative Prize. For all the bizarre images and incidents he describes, he stays rooted in the concrete insanity of this conflict, this unstanchable wound on Europe’s eastern side. In this ravaged building, where only the trauma and maternity wards are still open, tough Sonja, an ethnic Russian and brilliant surgeon, is the last doctor remaining – and still traumatised by her own sister Natasha’s mysterious disappearance. It also creates a distance from its already not-very-believable characters, especially Havaa, who never feels like a flesh-and-blood child of war. But can a book about atrocity be too miraculous? First there is its title’s announcement of cosmic ambition. . Published July 23, 2013 Fiction. From the infinite black space of despair emerges “a constellation of vital phenomena,” an arresting definition of “life” found in an old medical textbook. Our work is made possible through the support of the following organizations: Ron Charles, ‘Anthony Marra’s ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,’ reviewed by Ron Charles’. It is Khassan’s huge, unfinished history of Chechnya – reminiscent of unlicensed Doctor Iannis’s history of Cephallonia in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières (1994) – that lets Marra cleverly cover the finer complexities of the republic’s relationship with Russia. When he was gagged with duct tape and bundled away for good, Havaa avoided assassination by sneaking out of the house and hiding in the snow. May 6, 2013 • Anthony Marra's debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, takes place in war-torn Chechnya — a world of perpetual violence, fear and exploding land mines. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra Review: 5 out of 5 stars This was a whirlwind of a book. LONGLIST, 2013 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD. This seems, one can’t help thinking, peculiarly American. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is the 2013 debut novel by American author Anthony Marra.The story, told from an omniscient point of view, begins one morning in 2004 in the small Chechen village of Eldár.The night before, a villager named Dokka was captured and taken by Federalist soldiers, and his house was burned to the ground. The Chechnya of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a world of haunted objects, whose very specific little stories give a sense, far more eloquently than any tranche of exposition, of its tragic place in world affairs. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular. To view a constellation is to see each star’s past during the present. Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is sure to be one of those books that make my ‘Best of 2013’ list, I was very impressed with everything about it. In his review for the Washington Post, Ron Charles describes the novel as “a flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles.” Discuss the book’s closing lines in that context. The roots of both these conflicts go back to Russia’s mid-nineteenth-century occupation of the North Caucasus. But then, too, there are moments of mercy in this tale, grace notes when Marra casually alludes to what certain characters will be doing far in the future; yes, he assures us, some of these people you care about — or loathe — will live deep into the 21st century. Murád, a noble Avar chieftain caught between warring local and Russian forces, defects to the Russians in order to save his family: though he is double-crossed, and dies. With this fearlessness comes a fierce awareness of the book as a volatile technology, part of a tradition of accumulated stories that are historical and powerful but also, somehow, not enough. Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post. It was only during this second visit with Dokka that he gave in and became an informer. They aren’t particularly religious or political; we see only glimpses of loyal Russian officers or fanatical Muslims. The ironies of Ramzan’s situation are many. ( From the publisher .) The second war had its roots in the First Chechen War (aka the War in Chechnya). A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra, describes the tragic lives of displaced peoples in the aftermath of the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. ISBN-13: 9780770436421 Summary A resilient doctor risks everything to save the life of a hunted child, in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together. The difficulties are all there in the novel’s first line (again, reminiscent of Marquez), which grafts the whimsical to the awful: ‘On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from a dream of sea anemones.’ Further in, the little girl’s hands do not simply hold, but ‘bracelet’ Akhmed’s wrist, while her house is reduced to poetic ‘char’. Boyle, New York Times bestselling author of When the Killing’s Done and The Women The surgeon, who assumes she has cauterized her affections, spars with Akhmed in a way that tempts us to anticipate some romantic engagement, maybe even a little happiness. He is also able to draw the disappeared from their families’ descriptions. This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking. Transcending Hardships By Saving Others In 'Constellation' May 25, 2013 • In his debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra takes readers to … Be warned: There’s a section of “A Constellation” splattered with viscera that will scar your conscience and remind you what the United States risks by blurring the hard-won moral and legal prohibitions against torture. Read honest and unbiased product reviews from our users. But these are people shaken from the linear progress of time. More By and About This Author. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena Anthony Marra ... A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a worthy next pick. As the novel opens in the village of Eldár, Akhmed, an incompetent doctor, has watched a group of ‘Feds’ (Russian soldiers) arrive in the night, abduct his friend Dokka, and burn down his house. Soon these skills begin to look as life-giving as Sonja’s ability to stitch a surgical wound perfectly with dental floss. by Anthony Marra. 208 quotes from A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: ‘We wear clothes, and speak, and create civilizations, and believe we are more than wolves. Havaa’s Barbie doll was donated by a ‘devout Warsaw Catholic who believed the makers of department-store toys were conspiring to turn his ten-year-old girl into a heathen so had had boxed up all but her Nativity figures and, filled with the spirit of Christian charity, sent them to a heathen country where they could do no harm to the souls of children already beyond salvation.’ She also treasures a box of objects bartered over the years by fleeing refugees for a safe place at Dokka’s house: among them, the plastic figurine of a ballerina in pirouette and a field guide to Caucasian flora. This tension is a source of the great power of Léger’s extraordinary short books. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena takes place across two wars. At the heart of this initial conflict – and indeed the one that followed - … A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is one of the most accomplished and affecting books I've read in a very long time, though it isn't perfect. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is sure to be one of those books that make my ‘Best of 2013’ list, I was very impressed with everything about it. It hews to the historical record. Khassan himself is a fit 79-year-old veteran of the Red Army, having frozen his balls, as he tells Akhmed, through nine different time zones over sixteen years of service . “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” opens in a tiny, blood-soaked village of Chechnya, that part of the world that drifts into our consciousness only briefly — when, say, the Russians crush it again or, more recently, when young zealots detonate pressure cookers in Boston. In a recent essay for Sydney Review of Books, James Bradley remarked on a tendency in contemporary fantasy-based fiction to indulge in a sentimental celebration of storytelling itself. I haven’t been so overwhelmed by a novel in years. The book jumps around in time, but each chapter begins with a timeline with the date highlighted. Knowing that the men from the Interior Ministry will come back for her, Akhmed walks her to the hospital in nearby Volchansk. Twenty-eight-year-old Marra is at the young end of a generation confident about embracing the world, including its dark matter, with the narrative cleverness and even playfulness of a rediscovered postmodernism. Review. After working beside her in the hospital for some time, and seeming to improve, Natasha disappeared again. Once caught up in it, this novel will breathlessly spin you around and around. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a sweeping novel that uncovers the characters' pasts and propels them into the future. A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA is a spectacular debut novel about endurance and resilience amidst the insanity of war. [Marra is] a lover not a fighter, a prose writer who resembles the Joseph Heller of Catch-22 and the Jonathan Safran Foer of Everything Is Illuminated. Overview. This strategy of superaddition is partly a reaction to Chechnya’s complex history of suffering, a way of registering its weight and layers. REVIEW: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena February 17, 2016 December 20, 2016 ~ 55booksin52weeks Let me start by saying that I very much appreciate the overall story related in Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena . I rarely put down books. NATIONAL BESTSELLER • WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE’S JOHN LEONARD AWARD • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • San Francisco Chronicle • New York • … This is particularly risky for him, as his village has at least one informer, Ramzan, the son of his good friend Khassan, while Sonja herself would swap him and Havaa in a moment for her sister. In this haunting masterwork, award-winning author Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya. by Anthony Marra. A scholar in the village toils his whole life on a history of “this sliver of humanity the world seemed determined to forget.” At more than 50,000 pages, the old man’s manuscript flows from a kind of mania, reaching further and further back to avoid the ire of Russian censors. Delia Falconer. ANTHONY MARRA is the author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013), which won the National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John Leonard Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction, the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, and appeared on over twenty year-end lists. So when affable Akhmed gives Sonja a copy of Tolstoy’s book as their tentative friendship develops, and she tells him that she always reads the last line of novels first, we know that things can’t end well: Hadji Murád concludes with an image of a crushed thistle, trammeled but still thorny, in the midst of a ploughed field, reminding the narrator of Murád and symbolising Chechen endurance. 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. Oliver Bullough is disturbed by the use of Chechnya’s suffering as colour for a novel. Find helpful customer reviews and review ratings for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel at Amazon.com. We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Burramattagal people of the Darug nation, and pay our respects to elders past, present, and emerging. While she was working at the hospital, Natasha drew the view of lost Volchansk onto the cardboard covering its windows; in a proleptic flash we learn that these drawings will be kept by Sonja and appear eventually in an exhibition. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only So, too, is it with Anthony Marra’s characters—each one composes a story that spans generations. Marra’s ability to concentrate and humanise Chechnya’s plight is particularly impressive; the fact that he focuses his attention on women’s role in war (and chooses a little girl as the symbol of Chechnya’s future) is particularly welcome. The war ended when Dagestan-based leader Imam Shalil surrendered under generous terms in 1859. Profoundly recondite, they are also deeply moving. Marra manages to translate much of this knottiness into human terms without entangling the reader. Not since Everything is Illuminated have I read a first novel so ambitious and fully realized. “We twist our souls around each other’s miseries.”. The region was left almost hopelessly fragmented, crime-torn, and run by warlords. Those who survived were only able to return after his death in 1953. Its back story takes place during and just after the First War of 1994-1996. Charles is the fiction editor of The Washington Post. Dementia is not, admittedly, a happy outcome, but in a world whose most awful fact is its uncertainty such glimpses work against the agony of not-knowing that is central to the Chechnyan experience. The main, five-day, story is set in 2004, five years into the Second Chechen War, which officially ended in 2009. Driving this intense tragedy is an ordinary man, Ramzan, a young neighbor who was poisoned by pain, driven to accept his role as village rat. . Review of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, which covers the recent conflict in Chechnya, review by John Barron Delia Falconer is the author of two novels, The Service of Clouds and The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers.... for Léger the archive and literature are mutually informing. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena Anthony Marra Review by Megan Fishmann. The novel also zigzags needlessly across time. Mark Weiss/Getty Images May 3, 2013 4:28 pm ET . In the twentieth century, this history would only become more complex. Neither the newborn nor the elderly are spared (and, certainly, many of the stories in A Small Corner of Hell, especially about children, are almost unreadable). Yet in spite of this he was exiled with his parents to Kazakhstan, returning with nothing but their disinterred remains in his suitcase. I was considering the entirety of this as I read — and remained in — Anthony Marra’s astonishing first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Let's discuss the book in the comments? ‘I love the idea of books being more than books,’ he said, ‘or being, rather, something other than books.’. Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra My rating: 4 of 5 stars I really enjoyed this book, recommended to me by Deena. But a trip to the Landfill after being caught by Russian troops cost Dokka his fingers and, ultimately, his life, when Ramzan turns him in. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra 50,421 ratings, 4.09 average rating, 6,735 reviews Open Preview A Constellation of Vital ... ― Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. It is stunning for many reasons, not least that it is the first published novel from author Anthony Marra, still in his twenties. In the end, only a tiny section on Chechnya’s prehistory has made it into print, though Khassan will find the courage, finally, to chronicle recent events for Havaa. Ron Charles, ‘Anthony Marra’s ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,’ reviewed by Ron Charles’, The Washington Post, (May 2013). Summary | Excerpt | Reading Guide | Discuss | Reviews | Beyond the book | Readalikes | Genres & Themes | Author Bio. But Marra’s most moving invention – which seems to owe a debt to the painting of the eyes on the Buddha in Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost (2000) – is a ritual the men in the Landfill create. Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers! Subscribe to our free newsletter for weekly updates from the SRB: Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the SRB to help us maintain a vigorous program with no paywall. We learn that Sonja travelled to London to study before the First Chechen War began, only returning after the Russians withdrew because her sister had disappeared for the first time. But it is art that shines brightest in the novel’s cosmology. The Chechens recaptured it in 1996, ending the war, but at the price of its obliteration and the flight of much of the population. The traffic outside filtered through the windows takes on the rhythmic sound of waves; the railing, encircling the library’s upstairs gallery, becomes a ship’s deck, listing in the breeze; the ladders are knotted ropes over the sides of a sinking ship. On one level, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” covers just five days in 2004. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is filled with small handmade memorials that form another kind of constellation around its characters. Fri., Aug. 9, 2013 timer 3 min. “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” is set against the tangle of wars, occupations and insurgencies that have racked Chechnya since the early 1990s. Praise for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena “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 impossibly close and important. We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands this digital platform reaches. There's nothing easy about torture. Garnering rave reviews coast-to-coast, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is an unforgettable debut novel that deftly explores the human cost of war—and the healing power of hope. The contours of time and place erode. ARTICLES. I am not the only reader to see a strong family resemblance between A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and Everything is Illuminated (2002), Jonathan Safran Foer’s surprisingly comic fictional account of a post-Holocaust pilgrimage back to the family shtetl in Ukraine. This last line is also the epigraph of Marra’s novel. ED. Thanks for watching. Their experiences come to us in pungent flashbacks of trauma and joy — meals and games, marriages and affairs, offenses small and shocking that knit their lives together. Stanford Alumni 1,606 views. Hogarth, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7704-3640-7. Anthony Marra is a writer to watch and savor.” —T.C. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena A Novel (Book) : Marra, Anthony : 2004, a snow-covered village in Chechnya: Eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra Review: 5 out of 5 stars This was a whirlwind of a book. Ron Charles of the Washington Post described it as ‘a flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles.’. Two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together. October 22, 2014 crobey12 Leave a comment. For this reason, Stalin ordered the mass deportation of the population to Central Asia in 1944. ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ by Anthony Marra (Hogarth). Once caught up in it, this novel will breathlessly spin you around and around. Sovereignty was never ceded, and the struggles for justice are ongoing. —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “Powerful, convincing, beautifully realized—it's hard to believe that A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a first novel. This may in fact be a consequence of the literary novel’s globalisation, as it comes to see itself increasingly as part of a constellation of other books and art forms whose parts, less tied to the local, are as interchangeable as the architecture of a mall or airport. Islamic Revolution became part of Chechen independence, and when less hard-line Islamic Dagestan was targeted in 1999 with a spate of bombings, Russia invaded again. A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA. For an American writer, his grasp on Chechnya seems authentic. It's also a difficult book to read. On Monday, Anthony Marra will be at Politics & Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. “She had the pale, waxen skin of an unripe pear,” Marra writes. Find helpful customer reviews and review ratings for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena at Amazon.com. Anthony Marra’s fascinating debut, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, was set in a ravaged Chechen hospital, and he expands both his scope and ambition for this intriguing collection of … Then there is the enormity of its subject – the recent Chechen Wars – to which we can add the author’s youthfulness on publishing his first novel amid significant buzz. Other references draw us outside that 10-year range. ‘Ali Smith’s decision to begin her seasonal quartet in the mellow fruitfulness of Autumn and end in glorious Summer now seems like heroic optimism. As A Jealous Tide continues, MacDonald abandons the apparatus of realism in favour of a more playful and elaborate approach. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra: Review. The Inland Sea is an omnivorous, heady debut dense with paradox and provocation. Dismemberment. But “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” is ambitious and intellectually restless. In A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra explores the emotional complexities of life in a war-plagued place, as the upheaval of conflict and death reshape the ties of family, friends, neighbors, and tradition. This is a land once forcibly emptied by the U.S.S.R., then officially repopulated, and now being savaged by guerrilla attacks and merciless retaliations. I haven’t been so overwhelmed by a novel in years. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is depressing darkness filled with war-torn horrors and punctuated by bright moments of fragile tenderness. Check out Anthony Marra’s website. May 2013. In fact, Marra appears to have so internalised the idea of art’s redemptive purpose that he pours out its balm with each sentence – something we might also identify as a signature style of the Iowa Writers Workshop, which Marra credits in his acknowledgments. You can find a similar boldness in Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife (2011), which threaded magic realism into the Balkans conflict, and even Nam Le’s The Boat (2008) falls into this company, with its stories’ quietly flamboyant demonstration of geographic reach. And her desk is now a lifeboat as she ‘magicks’ herself onto a bench seat, a sole survivor adrift in open sea. Praise for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena “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 impossibly close and important. Praise for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena “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 impossibly close and important. Marra also offers the consolation of surprise connections between his major characters; in two instances these are genetic. Not since Everything is Illuminated have I read a first novel so ambitious and fully realized. Write your own review of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, read other people's reviews and browse a book excerpt from A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. A surfeit of other stories (and micro-stories like little flashes of bioluminescence) presses around its central drama. Ronald McDonald is the President of the United States, Akhmed claims. I haven’t been so overwhelmed by a novel in years. For some time, he took Dokka the arborist with him, and the flashbacks to their trips together over the ravaged landscape are some of the best scenes in the book; especially when the two men come across a forgotten village, still following the more traditional Sufi beliefs. There’s an alarming, Wild West wilderness at work. Instead of postmodern scepticism, we find a soothing and repeated endorsement of the imagination’s powers, in which the novel exceeds its limits by incorporating so many instances of imaginative labour. 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. Sex slavery. 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. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena deserves the adoration it has quickly garnered. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is ambitious and intellectually restless. The neutral intellectualism of the former and the subjective affectivity of the latter exist in a dyadic relationship. Call 202-364-1919. Sonja had not being living long in her family’s old bombed-out apartment when Natasha reappeared, scarred and heroin-addicted from years in the international sex trade; lacking Sonja’s talents, she had used her body to try to follow her. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, his first novel, will be published in fifteen countries. To be able to even identify or bury a relative in Chechnya is a sick kind of luxury, as the box of tags in Sonja’s hospital attests; these scraps of paper sewn into the dead’s clothing, but found too late, list their home towns and any family who might come to collect them. And more importantly, how did you even get through the book? 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. The Second Chechen War, according to Politskovskaya, was much worse than the first, during which some neighbourliness survived. Read honest and unbiased product reviews from our users. Within its pages we also find other books: Tolstoy’s late novel Hadji Murád (1912); a Russian medical textbook, from whose definition of life the novel takes its title; and a 3300-page history of Chechnya written by one of its main characters. More comfortable drawing portraits than blood, he is determined to save his old friend’s daughter, though “she seemed an immense and overwhelming creature whom he was destined to fail.” His only choice is to spirit Havaa out of the village, where the sole remaining career choices are running guns for the rebels or informing for the Russians. I was not disappointed. When he is called by loudspeaker to climb the ladder to his fate, the others improvise a memorial service, then bury the writing with a handful of wet clay. I haven’t been so overwhelmed by a novel in years. Léger understands the literary power of the image and of narrative; the thing and its multiple renderings through mediation. 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 impossibly close and important. Read honest and unbiased product reviews from our users. Staffed by a single nurse, a one-armed guard and a Russian surgeon searching for her sister, it’s a madhouse but also a sanctuary, where strands of absurdity and realism mingle without clashing. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena . You can follow him on Twitter: @RonCharles. On one level, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” covers just five days in 2004. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, review. This time around, as we see in the novel, a corrupt Russian army (often in collaboration with Chechen criminals) has reduced Chechens’ lives to a precarious bare existence. Instead, Marra concentrates on moments of human grace, no matter how humble. But its ambitions don’t stop at exhaustive research and breaking new fictional ground; though less brilliantly intellectualised and dazzling than Everything is Illuminated, with its tricky double time-scheme, Marra’s novel is just as committed to a superabundance of narrative life.