Re-reads, Reviews

Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Synopsis: In the final days of December 2004, in a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa hides in the woods when her father is abducted by Russian forces. Fearing for her life, she flees with their neighbor Akhmed—a failed physician—to the bombed-out hospital, where Sonja, the one remaining doctor, treats a steady stream of wounded rebels and refugees and mourns her missing sister. Over the course of five dramatic days, Akhmed and Sonja reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal, and forgiveness that unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate.

2013 Review: This book was amazing. And what I really liked about it was that there was no happy ending. The ending was cruel and harsh, but at the same time it was an ending that was happy and hopeful. This book was centred around three people – Havaa, whose house and father, Dokka, are both ripped from her in one night, and lived in Eldar village; Akhmed, a friend of Dokka’s who also lives in Eldar. He rescues Havaa and brings her to Hospital No.6. Sonja is the surgeon in Hospital No.6 who agrees to take Havaa in as long as Akhmed stays at the hospital and works with her and Deshi, a nurse who retired 3 years ago.

The novel is mainly centred around how the interactions of Havaa, Akhmed, and Sonja all effect one-another and how five days can change the lives of these people. But, the novel not only focuses on them. It also focuses on Khassan (the man who may or may not be Akhmed’s father), Ramzan (Khassan’s son who is an informer for the Feds, and is a pariah in the village), and Natasha (Sonja’s sister who left one day and hasn’t been seen since). All together their stories from the past, present, and future combine to create a spectacular novel in which our relationships with people in our lives are examined.

So, basic plot for you. I adored this book. Once again, a historical fiction novel has taken my breathe away, and is definitely one of the best books I’ve ever read. Its not a book you should read if your looking for a happy ending, or a fairytale. Its brutally honest about human actions, and how we all effect one another. It also tried to explain that our lives are shaped by those around us. Sonja’s life was drastically changed by the appearance of Havaa and Akhmed, who at first were bothers, but she grew to love them over time. Khassan was a pariah in the village because of his son, and took to talking to feral dogs and Akhmed’s wife. And through the shared histories and futures these people share, I got a better picture of this theme. (LOL my English teacher would be so proud).

This book also took me way longer to finish, a) because I had exams and b) because I wanted to enjoy ever single sentence in this book. The imagery and repetition of words in this novel greatly helps to future engulf you in the setting of the book. I can’t find anything bad about this book (minus the minuscule fact that sometimes there was too much repetition). ’twas spectacular (at least to me!)
Read and Enjoy!!

Gosh it was so hard to not cringe when I read my 2013 review of this book, 15 year old me sure had a way with words ahah. But surprisingly, I agree with a lot of what I said. Of course, going into the book I didn’t really remember a lot of what happened, but I knew that I loved the book enough so that I call it without hesitation one of my favourite books (if not my favourite) and also that I had a deep deep obsession with the words ‘constellation’ and ‘phenomena’ now. So suffice it to say that expectations were high. And honestly, I wasn’t disappointed.

There’s something about the way that Marra writes this book that I an genuinely in love with, and I think has stuck with me to this day. I think that this was one of the first books that I read which used multiple perspectives to tell a story, as well as jumping around in the timeline of the character’s lives. And I think that it’s absolutely brilliant how he does it. By having the book start off on such a high intensity event, with Dokka getting taken and Ahkmed and Haava fleeing, you’re immediately sucked into the book, and can deal with the slower paced introductions later once you’re attached to the characters. It also really allows you to have such an inside view to the character’s motivations and actions. I find that this is most telling for Natasha and Sonja, but also for Khassan and Ahkmed’s narratives as well. It gives you such a deep connection with nearly every character, and to me that is a huge part of what makes the book so incredible.

What I was really looking for was whether or not the book could still elicit an emotional reaction from me (aka. could it make me cry like I did when I was 15). I was kind of skeptical, since I remembered some of the most important plot points. But nope, I was still crying like a baby for the last few chapters. Especially for the final chapter with Sonja and Haava where it is describing their life together, and the futility of their search for Natasha. That one made me take a second to breathe.

Something that I didn’t remember from my 2013 read is the underlying narrative surrounding displacement, refugees, sexual assault and human trafficking. I was probably too young to recognize the seriousness of Natasha’s storyline, but reading it this year I was floored by her character’s resilience. Her narrative really drives home the message that our lives are shaped by the environments that we live in, and despite our best efforts it can be really hard to get out of cycles of oppression. Natasha’s story is probably my favourite in the novel (followed closely by Khassan’s) and I’m so glad that I re-read this book when I was able to fully appreciate it.

I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book to everyone, and it’s 5/5 rating shouldn’t surprise anyone. Now excuse me while I go look for more old books to review!
Have a great week ducks!

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