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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Novel
Narrated by: Colette Whitaker
Length: 12 hrs and 8 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4 out of 5 stars (13 ratings)

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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.

In his brilliant, haunting novel, Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where 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. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa’s house. But when he finds her 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 the talented, tough-minded 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. And she has a deeply personal reason for caution: Harboring these refugees could easily jeopardize the return of her missing sister. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weave 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.

©2013 Anthony Marra (P)2013 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

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

“A complex debut…[Marra writes] with elegant details about the physical and emotional destruction of occupation and war.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 

“[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)

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Something hopeful out of so much pain

Would you consider the audio edition of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena to be better than the print version?

The narration was at times off putting, probably as a British listener I found certain pronounciation points jarred, and the lack of narrative inflexion made it more difficult to follow than it needed to be.

What did you like best about this story?

The story itself was excellent with great structure and layering of different perspectives.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, but I did finish it after our book club meeting as recommended by others, and it was well worth it.

Any additional comments?

Loved the story but this was the first time I felt let down by the weakness in narration.