recently read: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra
This is Anthony Marra’s first novel, and it is a remarkable one. It is the interwoven story of people living in Chechnya during the Chechen Revolution. Marra focuses on a precocious young girl who has recently lost her father; her neighbor, an incompetent doctor with a penchant for portraiture and a homebound wife; and the talented hospital doctor who takes them in.
This is an incredible book; Marra’s writing is stunningly beautiful. This is the best-executed work of fiction I read all year; his words are poetic and lush, but they describe a cracked world. The juxtaposition of these world-building words and world-breaking content at once makes the book both more tactile and more intangible.
This book was accessible even though I began it almost entirely unfamiliar with the problems in Chechnya. It encourages the reader to learn more about the region’s wide-ranging issues, but does not require any prior knowledge. Writers tackling the problems of another culture can sometimes be difficult or poorly done; Marra does so with compassion and care. His characters never feel one-sided.
Some reviews that I have read have been unimpressed with the things I loved most. Many have disliked the way the non-linear way the book is organized: it jumps around in time. I loved this; it allows Marra to cover both large swaths of time (years), but also the minute aspects of life (days, minutes). Others have been frustrated by the stilted way his characters speak; I thought this speaks to the frozenness, the brokenness, of the world Marra’s characters live in while giving it the feel of a work that may have been in translation. Marra also has a tendency to write things like, “Although she did not yet know it, in five years ________ would happen.” I loved that he did this; it highlights the interconnected moments of his character’s lives, allows his readers to further explore his characters when they would otherwise not have the opportunity to do so, and underscores the non-linear progression of the book.
I was so impressed with this novel; it is the book I am most glad I read in 2013.