My intention this month was to step away from historical fiction and read a lighter book. I proceeded to read five good books, not *the* book. When I picked up A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, it hooked me within it’s opening sentences.
“On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones. While the girl dressed, Akhmed, who hadn’t slept at all, paced outside the bedroom door, watching the sky brighten on the other side of the window glass; the rising sun had never before made him feel late. When she emerged from the bedroom, looking older than her eight years, he took her suitcase and she followed him out the front door. He had led the girl to the middle of the street before he raised his eyes to what had been her house. ‘Havaa, we should go,’ he said, but neither moved.”
Just as, “The Paris Architect,” moved me to tears, this book is one of the best books I have ever read and brings to life a country and time of war that I was completely unfamiliar with.
In this novel, two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child named Havaa. Havaa is just eight years old when her neighbor Akhmed finds her hiding in the woods, watching her house burning down. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, but her father is an old friend, and he risks it all deciding to take her to an abandoned hospital where a woman named Sonja Rabina runs a hospital almost single handedly.
Sonja does not love kids…at all. Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will change in ways she never imagined. The reader is taken on a journey through each of these character’s past on an extraordinary journey of love, loss, and ultimately what it means to be human.
Again, because we are dealing with a wartime topic, there is a lot of graphic violence, gory medical scenes, and violence in this book. One torture scene in particular is difficult to read (but can be skimmed over). It is a necessary part of the book though to truly capture what is happening to the Chechens.
For me, it took a little bit to really get into the meat of the story, mainly because of my own lack of education of what had happened in this country. If you struggle in the beginning, I encourage you to keep pushing on. This book is one of the most accomplished books I have ever read. It reads like poetry, the narrative is so unique, you will connect with every character in some way, there are moments of unexpected humor, and there is beauty in the pulling & weaving of these characters together.
The author, Anthony Marra, is the winner of a Whiting Award, a Pushcart Prize, The Atlantic’s Student Writing Contest, and the Narrative Prize, and his work was anthologized in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He has lived and studied in Eastern Europe, and now resides in Oakland, CA.
I know you will want to become a fan after you read this one!
Anthony has graciously offered three of our readers the chance to win his book. He has also offered to answer your questions, which I could not be more excited about!
To enter to win a copy of, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below!
Our book club discussion for this novel will take place on February 25th. I will try to collect your questions for the author before that though via our Facebook group! Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed and connect with me on GoodReads too!
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