Friday, September 2, 2016

A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA


Review of A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA by ANTHONY MARRA

This story feels more like a puzzle than most, flitting between different perspectives and back and forth in time and providing information that will only have significance when pieced together with later information.

The story takes place in a small village in Chechnya during Russian invasions. The viewpoint shifts between different characters all interconnected even if not everyone knows everyone directly. Eight-year-old Havaa finds herself alone in the woods after Russian soldiers abducted her father. Ahkmed, a friend of her father’s, rescues her and brings her to a hospital for safekeeping (or more like a war-time sorry excuse for a hospital with about 1% of the staff and supplies they should have).

At the hospital they meet the doctor Sonja. Personally, I’m a sucker for women like Sonja, women overrun by their own determination. It’s like her will becomes a force of its own. And I loved the line where Sonja’s sister Natasha, who recently escaped from being forced into prostitution, recoils from Sonja’s medical work. Watching Sonja’s detached attitude towards the human body, Natasha can’t help thinking her sister’s not that different from her pimp.

Marra writes very distinct voices and dialogue. I often read writers where their own voice shines through, because the characters all sound too similar. Not the case here. Everyone feels unique from each other.

And, without any spoilers, what a powerful ending.

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