Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Thank you to TLC and the publisher for providing me a copy to review.
The first thing that jumped out at me about this book is the setting - Chechnya in 2004, with some flashbacks to the previous 10 or so years.  Of course Chechnya is on everyone's radar since the bombings in Boston, but it was really the dates that stood out to me.  I can remember 2004 clearly.  I think I have a very stereotypical Western, privileged mindset and I have to admit that it is very hard for me to imagine these events happening during my adulthood.  It's hard for me to picture people not having electricity and access to  even halfway adequate healthcare during my privileged college years.

It's not that I am so naive that I don't know that this was and is the case in many countries, it's just hard for me to picture.  It's one of those things that I just have a very hard time imagining.  And this book brought the challenges faced by those in Eastern Europe to life in a way that I hadn't considered, particularly in recent years.  It's much easier for me to imagine an impoverished African or South American area than it is to imagine ethnic wars and the resulting economic and social devastation in Eastern Europe.  Considering this as a current event, rather than a "before my time" event was new.  And profoundly moving.

The plot revolves around three main characters: Akhmed, who finds his neighbor's child, Havaa, hiding in the woods after her father is abducted in the night and taken to be executed.  Akhmed knows the Feds who took Havaa's father are also looking for Havaa and takes her to the almost completely abandoned hospital, where he hopes Sonja, the only remaining doctor in the town, will help him conceal Havaa.  The next five days reveal connections both lost and found and impact the characters in ways the reader could not imagine.

Writing
Stunning.  This is probably the best long-form fiction, in terms of writing, that I've read this year.  The author's use of language is beautiful and compelling and the imagery is so amazingly vivid.  "I felt like I was there" is such a cliche, but in this case it is absolutely true.  I can't rave enough about the quality of the writing.  It's just beautiful.

Entertainment Value
It's not a fast-paced book, but the writing is so amazing and the story so intriguing that I couldn't put it down.    I was in love with the characters and the setting and the timeline and just everything about it.  And, of course, there is a well-paced plot driving the story, which never hurts.

Overall
I cannot say enough good things about this book.  I would be willing to bet that it'll have a high spot on my Best of 2013 list.  I think it has an appeal to a wide variety of readers and is accessible enough to be read by those who enjoy various genres.  I also think it's a book that writers need to read.

Again, thank you to TLC and the publisher for providing me with a copy to review.  You can click here to see the list of all the reviewers on the tour.


6 comments:

  1. I've never heard of this book, but the cover art brought me over to look at what you had to say, and then your praise has made me excited to read the book. What a hook! I can't wait to pick this one up.

    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. It's got a beautiful cover, doesn't it? Let me know what you think after you finish reading!

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  2. "I think I have a very stereotypical Western, privileged mindset and I have to admit that it is very hard for me to imagine these events happening during my adulthood. It's hard for me to picture people not having electricity and access to even halfway adequate healthcare during my privileged college years."
    I felt so guilty about this as I read...and ashamed...to read about something that was happening as I was living my little whiny life is appalling :( I also agree with you that the writing is STUNNING. Seriously.
    Enjoyed reading your review! :)

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  3. Yes, as Peppermint said, one feels very lucky to be in America while reading this book! My sister actually spent a year in Bosnia, and she came back too with an enormous appreciation even of things like reliable electricity. As much as we, or I, at any rate, complain about things in the U.S., I am always conscious that we are so fortunate here, and spoiled! Great review!

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  4. Wow, this sounds like an absolutely amazing book! After reading your review I'm putting it at the top of my TBR list.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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