Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" by Anthony Marra

Nothing makes me wearier of a book when it is compared, by one of the review blurbs on the back, to a book that I dislike. Ann Patchett, an author I am indifferent to, compared Anthony Marra’s debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena to Everything is Illuminated. But luckily, this amazing book is nothing like that, deserving of every bit of praise it gets for being a joyous accomplishment of human will and the little things and victories that help get us through our days. This is a book, much like something like The Goldfinch, is really geared toward any number of readers. Its story is simple enough to understand while having flourishes throughout that make it unique, but it isn’t too complicated. It is a far cry from something like A Brief History of Seven Killings. But I am not knocking the book for that since the book is so enjoyable and eye-opening to read, telling a fictional story set in a war torn land, where humanity is on life support, and people find hope when they need it. I actually find it more difficult to write a story like this than it is to write something experimental, at least some of the time. It takes not only a great writer but a great storyteller to string a reader along, make them feel all kinds of emotions, while stimulating their intellect as well, and Antony Marra is for sure, a great writer. The story takes place in small village in Chechnya, where a brutal war has turned everything into ash and rubble, most noticeably the townspeople’s spirits. One cold night in winter, Havaa, an eight year old girl, witnesses her dad being taken away by soldiers to a place the locals call “the landfill”, where no one has ever returned from. Her neighbor, Akhmed, takes her in, and in an act of desperation, takes her to the local hospital, long since abandoned, to be taken care of by Sonja, the only doctor in the whole town, who is long since numbed herself the plight of many of the town’s dwindling residents. The next few days in all three of their lives will forever alter their futures. It’s not the most unique of premises, but it is done as well as I can remember recently. It is a harrowing story, filled with twists and turns that make the reading of this book easy and exciting, even when horrible things are happening to the characters that you love. Another surprising thing about this book is how funny it is, injecting humor if odd places, especially when it comes to Deshi, Sonja’s withering right hand woman, distrustful of all men, especially oncologists, due to a long ago heartbreak. It sounds sad, but her sad sack anger provides many laughs. It deals handily with not only the past but the future, which reminded me of the final pages of The World According to Garp, as things in the story and beyond get wrapped up tidily. I don’t have much of anything deep to say about this book. I enjoyed it on a purely emotional level, and just going by that, I found reading this book to be a very enjoyable experience. 
Rating: 5/5

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