[New in Review] A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Author: Anthony Marra

Publisher: Random House

Imprint: Hogarth

Date Published: May 7, 2013

Format: Advanced Reader Copy

Source: Received in a giveaway


A novel of unflinching honesty, gutting humanity, haunting detail, and beautiful, raw hope dangling like a bare bright light in a basement.

A haunting novel set in a nearly abandoned hospital in war-torn Chechnya that is both intimate and ambitious in scope. Eight-year-old Havaa, Akhmed, the neighbour who rescues her after her father’s disappearance, and Sonia, the doctor who shelters her over 5 dramatic days in December 2004, must all reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal and forgiveness which unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate.

In his bold debut, Anthony Marra proves that sometimes fiction can tell us the truth of the world far better, and far more powerfully, than any news story. You will not forget the world he creates–A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and its characters will haunt you long after you turn the final page.

Number of Days It Took to Read: 4


Love the cover. It is pretty but in a more subtle way that won’t overwhelm you. And yet it still manages to be quite eye catching


The Writing Score: 4 out of 5

Recommendation: A Must Read

Memorable or Forgettable: Memorable

Rating: 4 out of 5


What if you were just a kid and your only family was taken away from you? What if you were left all alone until a friend of your father came to take you somewhere strange? This is what happens to eight year old Havaa, one of the main characters in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.

Anthony Marra has told such a beautiful and deep, complex story as his debut novel. The title of the book, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is in my opinion a very fitting title for the book. It refers to the definition of life given in a Soviet Union medical textbook owned by one of the characters in the book. I loved how Marra was able to seamlessly weave together the back stories of the numerous characters featured in the book to show how they were connected to one another. It was impressive to read how Havaa was a connection to so many of the characters, and it only added to the importance of her character in the book.

All the characters in addition to Havaa were very well written because in spite of their many, many flaws you cannot help be still care for them deeply. There are two characters in the book who are doctors, Sonja and Akhmed but despite sharing a profession they are radically different people. However that is what makes them such intriguing characters. As well I enjoyed seeing how they interacted with Havaa; though both treated her differently it was nice to see how they both separately came to care about her as if she was family. Though it is stated many times in the book that you cannot choose your family yet I feel like when it came to Havaa; Akhmed and later Sonja did have some choice in taking her in as a sort of daughter.

Reading this book makes me remember how much I have to be thankful for, and how much of it I have taken for granted. I realize I am blessed to have both of my parents still alive and together, and I am extremely lucky to live in a relatively safe and stable country known as Canada. The only criticism I would have is this book tends to jump around a lot in terms of timeline which can make for a confusing read at times. Luckily a timeline indicating the year the events of each chapter occurred is provided at the beginning of each chapter. This makes it somewhat easier to navigate the stories in the book. I would definitely recommend this book for those who are fans of literary and/or historical fiction. Also if you like fiction that makes you think and characters that will stay with you even after you are done reading; you should definitely pick this book up.

– Linh

The opinions expressed in this review are my own; I did not receive any compensation in exchange for this review.

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