A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

eBook - 2013
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Mar 10, 2018

I cannot remember being so thoroughly moved by a book as I was by this one. I felt as though I had a part of the genuine experience of living in a war zone. Sections of this are achingly sad (the story of how one of the characters who, faced with experiencing torture for the second time, turns to betrayal of his neighbors, left me haunted) but there is humor, too. Marra paints his characters with such depth that I could envision them at every step. Find this book for yourself and experience its soul and humanity.

Jun 20, 2017

I loved it!! All the reviews are correct, depending on your preferences and point of view. But I absolutely loved it to death. I can't find anything I want to read since I've read this. It's tragic, for sure. But so beautifully written. It captivated me from beginning to end and I give it out as gifts to certain people. If you can't read about darkness, don't pick up this one.

Apr 24, 2017

Reading the debut book of a writer whose second book you really liked is a bit of a gamble. What if s/he only found firm footing with the second book? What if the first was a dud?

I needn’t have worried. There are similarities between Anthony Marra’s second book The Tsar of Love and Techno in that both books have sections set in Chechnya (in fact, the whole of Constellation is set there) and they both have oblique titles, but this book focusses more on a small group of people and is ‘straighter’...

I know very little Chechnyan history, but I feel that I know more having read this book- and what an easy, seductive way to learn it.

All of this written with wisdom and compassion and with landscapes and people described so clearly that you can see it. He's good; very good.
For my complete review, see

Feb 01, 2017

I persisted with this book. The writing was beautiful, but at times confusing. It was heartbreaking to read about the terrible effects of war. Most of the characters were well developed and I liked how the stories overlapped.

brianreynolds Jan 11, 2017

Anthony Marra’s prose dances a tightrope between poetic eloquence and tedious extravagance. Often it charmed me with metaphors one had to stop and celebrate; just as often I found myself falling asleep on a long train ride composed of parallel constructions or lists or rambling similes. The narrative was more brutal than anyone I personally know would use the words “enjoy” or “become absorbed by” to describe reading it. I wanted to put it down. Never having killed or tortured anyone myself, I’m not prepared to say it wasn’t realistic. I didn’t put it down. In fact, A Constellation was so ironic in its tone, I had great difficulty accepting the author’s attempt to shape it at the last minute into an archetypal comedy. Not fair. Not good enough to simply say this or that will happen seven or ten years in the future, when everything that leads up to the conclusion points to there being no future at all for either of the survivors. I have no quarrel that the book is brilliant. Nor is the story unimportant in any sense. It was not an easy read, but I’m sure Marra would counter: it’s not an easy century to live in.

Sep 16, 2016

Well written for a debut novel. I picked up a quick history lesson about a modern day conflict that I knew very little about. It is well researched and the characters are well developed.

Jun 13, 2016

Anthony Marra vividly paints a portrait of people who are at their best and worst under extreme circumstances. I had some difficulty following the time jumps, but the book is beautifully written and the ending made the slower portions worthwhile.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 03, 2016

No words are wasted in Anthony Marra's debut novel about Chechnya. The plot is woven very intricately; every loose strand is tied before the book reaches its conclusion. And what a beautiful tapestry it is. It's lyrical and affecting, intelligent but never boring. The scenery and characters come alive. Marra does a fabulous job of crafting a moving novel without becoming overly sentimental. In short, I cannot praise this book enough.

Baxter555 May 19, 2016

I wasn't too sure about this book when I first started. I almost did not complete it; but as the story progressed, I finally found myself wanting to know how the book ends. There were words that I did not understand and some grammar that might have come from interpretation from another language and that seemed to be throwing me off. All in all, I would highly suggest this book.

PimaLib_StephanieM Feb 22, 2016

A dense but worthwhile story that will force you into the shoes of those who experienced both Chechen wars. At times, you may find yourself sympathetic with otherwise unlikable and downright detestable characters. To me, this is a hallmark of good writing.

Jan 24, 2016

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra is a beautifully written novel. It is a powerful story. The characters Havaa, Dokka, Akemed, Sonja, Ula, Natasha, Khassan, and Ramzan are well crafted in a story that weaves their threads through those of the other characters. Although it is not told in a linear manner, the going back and forth between decades, even into the future, actually supports this narrative.

Sep 10, 2015

Very rewarding. Despite heavy and sometimes horrific subject matter, I found this to be a rather quick read and never lost interest in the “constellation” of rich, true-life characters who try to overcome personal tragedies and attempt to navigate meaningful lives in the midst of endless warfare. All of the characters are interesting but most compelling are two doctors, one an unlikely hero, the other a reluctant one, and a perceived “villain” whose tragic backstory elicits sympathy despite the terrible harm he has caused. Of the criticisms some have levelled at this novel I found one to be somewhat valid, that the story could take place anywhere and Chechnya as a unique place is not conveyed very well. But overall highly recommended for anyone who looks to fiction to illuminate the contemporary human condition.

Aug 02, 2015

Excellent novel and I was sad to finish it. Well drawn characters in a world we can only guess at from the news. I could really feel for all of their situations and the jumps through time were written seamlessly. Just loved this book and think of it often.

May 23, 2015

This novel is set in post-Soviet Chechnya in a small village during the two Chechnyan wars and tell the story of three friends, a child and a doctor in a nearby hospital over five days. The lives of the main characters are all in some way interconnected. This book is totally from a Western perspective and sensibility and its Chechnyan setting is irrelevant.

Mar 19, 2015

some pretty gruesome torture scenes but ended up liking it.

Mar 16, 2015

I did not think that I liked this book, but when I finished it, I immediately turned to page one and reread it. The characters are haunting, the conditions distressing, but the author was so masterful in weaving the characters and their stories together.

I highly recommend this book!

Oct 10, 2014

I love historical fiction, and I loved this book. It's heartbreaking and heartwarming, and paints an interesting picture of a slice of life in wartime Chechnya. The back-and-forth between 1994 and 2004 is easy to follow and flows nicely. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy historical fiction.

Oct 10, 2014

Neither the story nor the characters interested me. The writing is overwrought, too many flourishes. And I wasn't convinced the author has any insight (much less first-hand experience) into Chechnya. I wish beginning authors would start with less ambitious novels (read "shorter") and so not tax their potential readers.

Oct 07, 2014

The praise heaped on Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena has been astonishing. So I was surprised when I finished this book and didn't feel the same urge to sing its praises.

The writing is beautiful in places no doubt, but it's beautiful in that deliberate way you often see in MFA-styled writing. I was drawn to the mosaic of stories and characters here but to me these bright slices never really cohered into anything that had shape or meaning. This novel should have vibrated with gritty life, and it didn't. It felt forced, running the old theme of "man’s inhumanity to man" to the ground. The writing style is free-floating at times and the point of view bobs from one character to another. The effect is disconcerting, which would have been fine, but then it is often coupled with dialogue that felt unnatural, forced. Another review wrote that the banter sounded like it could be from an absurdist play, and I agree. Overall, I think Marra was just trying way too hard to convey the dislocated, fractured sense of being of its characters, and so the story rang false.

geezr_rdr Sep 13, 2014

A real struggle to get through as a 2 week e-book, although there were some interesting passages. No idea why this war torn area is different from any other, or the characters are more real or empathetic. I say pass on this one.

May 06, 2014

This novel had great reviews and I too wanted to like it. But something was missing. Maybe it had too much action. A literary novel should feel wise.

May 04, 2014

An absolutely amazing novel. Anthony Marra captures the essence of a diverse array of characters from conflicted sisters to incompetent surgeons to orphans of war, and they all feel completely real.

Apr 25, 2014

I actually liked the reader. This has been one of my favourite audio-books. And I agree the quality of writing is beautiful and painful.

Mar 29, 2014

Couldn't read much- too depressing

rosenyny Mar 25, 2014

Very moving story with gut wrenching description and observations of trying to survive in a war torn country. The interconnections of the characters is so well crafted and the imagery of the writing is incredibly well done. One of the best written books I've read.

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