A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

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9780099575573: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Stegner Fellow, Iowa MFA, and winner of the" Atlantic"'s emerging writer contest, Anthony Marra has written a brilliant debut novel that brings to life an abandoned hospital where a tough-minded doctor decides to harbour a hunted young girl, with powerful consequences.
In the final days of December 2004, in a small rural village in Chechnya, 8-year-old Havaa hides in the woods when her father is abducted by Russian forces. Fearing for her life, she flees with their neighbour Akhmed to the bombed-out hospital, where Sonya, the one remaining doctor, treats a steady stream of wounded rebels and refugees. Over the course of 5 dramatic days, Akhmed and Sonya reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal and forgiveness that unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate.
With "The English Patient"'s dramatic sweep and "The Tiger's Wife"'s expert sense of place, Marra gives us a searing debut about the transcendent power of love in wartime, and how it can cause us to become greater than we ever thought possible.

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Review:

Q&A with Anthony Marra

Q. Where did you study in Russia? How did that pique your interest?

A. As a junior in college I studied in St. Petersburg. War journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya had recently been assassinated; wounded veterans of the Chechen Wars trawled the metro cars for alms; street gangs routinely attacked people from the Northern Caucasus. Yet as an American I knew little about Chechnya. As soon as I began researching its incredible history, I never looked back.

Q. The setting of your book takes place during the Chechen Wars. Why did you choose this period of history as the backdrop of your novel?

A. Chechnya is a corner of the world largely mysterious to most Americans, yet it’s a remarkable place populated with remarkable people who have become accustomed to repeatedly rebuilding their lives. To quote Tobias Wolff, “We are made to persist...that’s how we find out who we are.” These characters commit acts of courage, betrayal, and forgiveness as they persist in saving what means most to them—be it their families, their honor, or themselves—from the destruction of war.

Q. The title of the book has a story. Can you please explain its meaning?

A. One day I looked up the definition of life in a medical dictionary and found a surprisingly poetic entry: “A constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.” As biological life is structured as a constellation of six phenomena, the narrative life of this novel is structured as a constellation of six point-of-view characters.

Q. Your writing style is unique in that you move back and forth between the present and the past. Was that a conscious choice?

A. Very much so. I wanted to write a novel expansive enough to cover the decade of the two Chechen Wars without losing the drama and suspense inherent in a more tightly coiled plot. By weaving the five-day story of a hunted girl through a larger backdrop, I hoped to combine the tension of a character-driven thriller with the richness of a historical epic. Also, moving through time shines a light on the seemingly trivial moments, relationships, and allegiances that affect characters in profound ways years down the line.

Q. What has had the greatest influence on your writing?

A. My mom has six siblings and my dad has four sisters and between them all there are more cousins than I count, which means that family events have always been filled with voices, stories, and laughter. From an early age I learned from them that stories are how we understand one another, how we preserve the past, and how we make meaning from the chaos of our lives.

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2013: In A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra takes us to snow-covered Chechnya during the Second Chechen War. The novel, a remarkable decade-spanning debut, opens with eight-year-old Havaa looking on as her father is dragged off by Russian soldiers for a crime he did not commit. The soldiers set fire to Havaa's home, and next-door neighbor Akhmed attempts to hide her at nearby hospital. Sonya, the doctor who runs the facility, is hesitant to harbor Havaa, as the child invites unnecessary risk to her barely functioning hospital, but both she and Akhmed realize that Havaa represents something greater than a single life: she is the key to maintaining humanity in an ethnic conflict that is absurd and unjust. "There are things a person shouldn't understand," Akhmed says. "There are things a person has a moral duty never to understand." But by the end of Vital Phenomena, we do understand--with deeply emotional characters and gripping depiction of wartorn Chechnya, Marra makes us understand. --Kevin Nguyen

About the Author:

ANTHONY MARRA is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, with an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He's won a Pushcart Prize, the Whiting Writers' Award, the Prairie Lights Fiction Prize and first place in the" Atlantic"'s emerging writers' contest and in "Narrative"'s short story contest.

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2014. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Granta Best of Young American Novelists 2017. In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it s just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja s world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular . (Ann Patchett). Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780099575573

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Book Description Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2014. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Granta Best of Young American Novelists 2017. In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it s just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja s world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular . (Ann Patchett). Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780099575573

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Book Description Vintage. Book Condition: New. In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. Num Pages: 432 pages. BIC Classification: FA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 198 x 129 x 27. Weight in Grams: 304. . 2014. Paperback. . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Bookseller Inventory # V9780099575573

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Book Description Vintage, 2014. Book Condition: New. In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. Num Pages: 432 pages. BIC Classification: FA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 198 x 129 x 27. Weight in Grams: 304. . 2014. Paperback. . . . . . Bookseller Inventory # V9780099575573

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Book Description Vintage Publishing. Paperback. Book Condition: new. BRAND NEW, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra, This is longlisted for the National Book Award 2013. In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it's just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja's world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate. "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular". (Ann Patchett). Bookseller Inventory # B9780099575573

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