The title is a mouthful, and the idea of reading about war torn Chechnya was not too enticing to me; but this book had been recommended to me a number of times, so I plunged in. This debut novel is a moving portrayal of the effects of war on average citizens: doctors, an arborist, and the thousands of innocent refugees that are thrown from their homes, as one country exercises its power over another. There are, without a doubt, grim moments in this story, but there is also immense love and compassion. This book will stay with you for some time after you close the last page.— From Mark B.
“In A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA, Anthony Marra expertly balances the pain and suffering inflicted during the Chechen conflict with exquisite moments of loyalty, sacrifice, humility and enduring love. Marra intricately connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters in wholly unexpected ways, slowly revealing their collective past, present and future. But as their breathtaking stories compel you forward, slow down and savor the vivid imagery and lyrical prose on each and every page. Aptly named, Marra's debut is indeed phenomenal.”
— Anderson McKean, Page & Palette, Fairhope, AL
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the YearNew York Times Bestseller National Book Award Longlist SelectionA Washington Post Top 10 Book of the YearWashington Post BestsellerNPR BestsellerBarnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers WinnerAn ALA Notable Book of the YearA #1 Indie PickAn Amazon.com Best Book of the YearA Publisher's Weekly Top 10 Books of the YearA Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the YearA Library Journal Top 10 Book of the YearNBCC John Leonard Prize Winner Named one of the Best Books of the Year by: New York Magazine * Chicago Tribune * Kansas City Star * GQ * NPR * Christian Science Monitor * San Francisco Chronicle * Cleveland Plain Dealer“Brilliant.”—New York Times“A flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles....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. At the risk of raising your expectations too high, I have to say you simply must read this book.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post“Extraordinary....a 21st century War and Peace....Marra seems to derive his astral calm in the face of catastrophe directly from Tolstoy.”—Madison Smartt Bell, New York Times Book Review“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is ambitious and intellectually restless....[Marra is] 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.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times“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“The most moving book I’ve read in years. By writing so beautifully about a tiny village in Chechnya, this 28-year-old Washington native has produced a timeless tragedy about the victims of war.”—Ron Charles, Washingtonian“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 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“[A Constellation of Vital Phenomena] pulls together blown-out bits of a world turned inside-out to create a brutal form of beauty from chaos....its prose is also ruefully funny in places and littered throughout with dazzling poetry.”—John Barron, Chicago Tribune “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, author of The Interestings, for 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....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 for Entertainment Weekly“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“Excellent.”—New York“My favorite book of the year....Many people can write beautifully, but few manage to create a whole that is more valuable than the sum of its parts. Marra does this in spades. It is a brilliant book.”—Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto“Remarkable and breathtaking...a spellbinding elegy for an overlooked land engulfed by an oft forgotten war....Marra conjures fragile and heartfelt characters whose fates interrogate the very underpinnings of love and sacrifice.”—Adam Johnson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Orphan Master’s Son“Marra elegantly slides across time and perspective, mastering an omniscient voice that reveals each character’s future, present, and past....Marra’s characters are constantly aware of the transience of things, the frailty of their lives. This leads both to a resolve and poignancy that pervades the novel, as each character reckons with the inevitable.”—The Rumpus “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 (starred review)“Stunning, dazzlingly good....Marra takes us on an extraordinary journey into a world little known to many of us. He slowly unfolds his story with a balanced sureness and subtlety rare in a first novel, with a rhythm that is graceful and welcoming....beautiful, heartbreaking and filled to the brim with the vital ‘human matter’ of life. It may be the best new novel you'll read this year.”—Shelf Awareness (starred)“[A]n 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) “[Marra's] ambitions are Tolstoyan, and he brings stylistic virtuosity to the prose, giving us lyric passages saturated with intelligence and psychological insight. By the end of the novel, we love the characters and grieve with them, and rejoice with the ‘immense, spinning joy’ that is the novel’s final note.” —2012 Whiting Writers’ Awards, Selection Committee“A complex debut...[Marra writes] with elegant details about the physical and emotional destruction of occupation and war.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)“Powerful, convincing, beautifully realized—it's hard to believe that A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a first novel. Anthony Marra is a writer to watch and savor.”—T.C. Boyle, New York Times bestselling author of When the Killing’s Done and The Women“Both devastating and transcendent. The story of eight people (and a nation) navigating two brutal wars, it’s a novel of loyalty and sacrifice and enduring love. You’ll finish it transformed.”—Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It“Anthony Marra’s fine debut novel reaches tenderly, unflinchingly, into the center of the Chechnyan conflict of the late 1990s. This tale has its roots in shocking brutality, and its beauty in the human redemption that can come from unaccountable human kindness. Whimsies of circumstance, fate, and the ties of family and faith serve to guide the reader and the characters through a richly layered and deeply beautiful journey.”—Vincent Lam, author of The Headmaster’s Wager