Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel

To prepare for our 2013 summer spontaneity tour, I packed hardbacks and paperbacks, downloaded e-books to my iPad and audio books through Audible. Between books, journals and even an author talk, I had a literary and adventurous five weeks.

A few days ago I finished Anthony Marra's brilliant A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. I'd started listening to it on audio before we left and while we traveled, stole minutes on a beach walk and in the car.

Marra's debut is an intense novel with stunning language that deserves a careful read. From the first sentence, "On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones," I was immediately catapulted to war-torn Chechnya. By the end of the first page I gasped out loud at both the images laid out before me and the language that painted the scene.

Marra's characters are damaged beyond belief, flawed and real and searching for truth. There's Havaa, the child who carries a suitcase full of souvenirs she might one day need, Sonja, the doctor who runs a bombed-out hospital and is obsessed with finding her disappeared sister, and Akhmed, a man who wants to save Havaa from the men who took her father. There are others, too, a writer whose son has betrayed his village, a nurse with a sharp wit and evil tongue, and a wife on the brink of madness.

This multi-layered tale of survival and betrayal has received stellar reviews, bookseller recommendations and interviews, made several bestseller lists and the 2013 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel short list.

This is one of my favorite reads this year.