A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 11.38.49 AMA Constellation Of Vital Phenomena By Anthony Marra

Despite universal raves about this book, I found it, at best, a very well written depressing book about a piece of Russian history I know very little about and still am not very motivated to study further. It does however capture the inhumanity that existed in the late 20th and early 21st Century and in this case focuses this damning searchlight on the Russian Government and a subset of its people. Such disregard for people who are of a different origin obviously is not exclusive with the ethnic group involved in this book. Sadly, we see similar antagonistic behavior in the United States if you scan today’s headlines although not acted out on the widespread scale that we found in the pages of this novel.

The centerpiece of this book is a small village in Chechnya. History tells us that the Russian Federation invaded this country in the 1990s to prevent it from leaving the Soviet Union. We follow a handful of characters throughout this book. One is eight-year-old Havaa who flees with a neighbor after the “Feds” killed her father and burnt her home down. The neighbor is a doctor who asks the surgeon of a nearby hospital to take the girl in if he will work helping out at the hospital. Fleeing refugees seem to be the most common patients at this hospital and they appear to either die or have amputations of their limbs from injuries, frequently with dental floss for suturing, since the hospital is chronically short on supplies. The new doctor is also short on medical skills but is a good artist. So he draws portraits of the deceased patients, which get hung in the local town as more or less death notices and memorials to them.

While the tone of this review may seem flippant, that was not the mood of the book. The author clearly tries to convey the caring that the people had for each other. Refugees roaming from one city to another were given rooms to stay overnight by local residents although they could only pay a symbolic pittance. On the other hand we are given graphic descriptions of how a person can be tortured by the government and how someone could ultimately become an informer who turns in just about all his friends. We also learn what a father might do when he learns that his son is such an informer.

The time span of this book is relatively short but it is greatly expanded by the author’s use of flashbacks. Mr. Marra has a way with words and metaphors that is captivating but the characters are somewhat in the shadows. One of the tests I give myself to see if a book has made a distinct impression on me is to see if in my mind I could cast a movie with known actors and actresses. In this case they didn’t stand out enough for me to do it.

Category: FH - Fiction Historical | Tags: , , , , , , , Comment »

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