Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Marra) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The strange and invigorating thing about Mr. Marra's novel...is how much human warmth and comedy he smuggles, like samizdat, into his busy story. At heart he's a satirist, a lover not a fighter, a prose writer who resembles the Joseph Heller of Catch-22 and the Jonathan Safran Foer of Everything Is Illuminated.... A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is ambitious and intellectually restless. It's humane and absurd, and rarely out of touch with the Joseph-Heller-like notion that, as Mr. Marra puts it, "stupidity was the single abiding law of the universe.
Dwight Garner - New York Times


This novel is, among other things, a meditation on the use and abuse of history, and an inquiry into the extent to which acts of memory may also constitute acts of survival.... While reminding us of the worst of the war-torn world we live in, Marra finds sustainable hope in the survival of a very few, and in the regenerative possibility of life.... [T]that image is the textbook definition: “a constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation.
Madison Smartt Bell - New York Times Book Review


Marra is trying to capture some essence of the lives of men and women caught in the pincers of a brutal, decade-long war, and at this he succeeds beautifully....his storytelling impulses are fed by wellsprings of generosity....[the] ending is almost certain to leave you choked up and, briefly at least, transformed by tenderness.
Sam Sacks - Wall Street Journal


Anthony Marra's first novel...is a flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles…a testament to the vibrancy of contemporary fiction. Here, in fresh, graceful prose, is a profound story that dares to be as tender as it is ghastly, a story about desperate lives in a remote land that will quickly seem impossibly close and important.... I haven't been so overwhelmed by a novel in years…you simply must read this book.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


A powerful tale.... The moment Akhmed walks into the hospital with Havaa…rivals anything Michael Ondaatje has written in its emotional force.... There are many reasons to read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. To enter the tragedy of Caucasus history that has been dishonored by the Boston Marathon bombings, allegedly committed by two ethnic Chechen immigrants; to marvel at the lack of fear in a writer so young. To read a book that can bring tears to your eyes and force laughter from your lungs.... But the one I kept returning to, the best reason to read this novel, is that this story reminds us how senseless killing often wrenches kindness through extreme circumstances.
John Freeman - Boston Globe


This beautiful work will matter long after Chechnya has disappeared from our headlines.... The sense of connectedness is as meaningful as the particulars of it.... Over and over again, this is an examination of the ways in which many broken pieces come together to make a new whole. In exquisite imagery, Marra tends carefully to the twisted strands of grace and tragedy.... Everything in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena...is dignified with a hoping, aching heartbeat.
Ramona Ausubel - San Francisco Chronicle


Remarkable.... [A] novel about love as much as war.... In the aftermath of Boston, in a world where all our lives are linked more closely than ever before, these are words to hold close.
Tricia Springstubb - Cleveland Plain Dealer


Amazing...brilliant...one of the most accomplished and affecting books I've read in a very long time.... Though the lives lived in this novel can seem unbearable, what Anthony Marra has done is to diligently describe them in passionate, extraordinary prose.
Meg Wolitzer - NPR


With remarkable pathos and a surprising amount of humor, Marra keeps the focus on the relationships, struggles, and tiny triumphs of an unforgettable group of characters.... Marra creates a specific and riveting world around his characters, expertly revealing the unexpected connections among them. While Marra doesn’t shy away from the very real conflict of the region....this novel, full of humanity and hope, ultimately leaves you uplifted. Constellation deserves to be on the short list for every major award. It’s an absolute masterpiece.
Sarah Jessica Parker - Entertainment Weekly


(Starred review.) A complex debut…[Marra writes] with elegant details about the physical and emotional destruction of occupation and war.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) An authentic, heartbreaking tale of intertwining relationships during wartime.... As he shifts in time through the years of the two Chechen wars, Marra confidently weaves those plots together, and several more besides, giving each character a rich backstory that intersects, often years down the line, with the others.... [T]he novel’s tone remains optimistic, and its characters retain vast depths of humanity (and even humor) in spite of their bleak circumstances.
Library Journal


(Starred review.) Extraordinary...Marra collapses time, sliding between 1996 and 2004 while also detailing events in a future yet to arrive, giving his searing novel an eerie, prophetic aura. All of the characters are closely tied together in ways that Marra takes his time revealing, even as he beautifully renders the way we long to connect and the lengths we will go to endure.
Booklist


A decade of war in Chechnya informs this multivalent, heartfelt debut, filled with broken families, lost limbs and valiant efforts to find scraps of hope and dignity. Marra's vision of Chechnya in the years following the fall of the Soviet Union is inevitably mordant.... But he's a careful, intelligent stylist who makes the most of his omniscient perspective; one of his favorite tricks is to project minor characters' fates into the future; by revealing their deaths, he exposes how shabbily war treats everybody and gives the living an additional dose of pathos. The grimness is persistent, but Marra relays it with unusual care and empathy for a first-timer. A somber, sensitive portrait of how lives fray and bind again in chaotic circumstances.
Kirkus Reviews




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