A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

  • by Anthony Marra
  • Narrated by Colette Whitaker
  • 12 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A resilient doctor risks everything to save the life of a hunted child, in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together.
In his brilliant, haunting novel, Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa's house. But when he finds her hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.
For the talented, tough-minded Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. And she has a deeply personal reason for caution: Harboring these refugees could easily jeopardize the return of her missing sister. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja's world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weave together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

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What the Critics Say

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular. Not since Everything is Illuminated have I read a first novel so ambitious and fully realized. If this is where Anthony Marra begins his career, I can't imagine how far he will go.”
—Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto

“Remarkable and breathtaking, Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a spellbinding elegy for an overlooked land engulfed by an oft forgotten war. Set in the all-too-real Chechen conflict, 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

“A complex debut…[Marra writes] with elegant details about the physical and emotional destruction of occupation and war.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[An] extraordinary first novel...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)

“Marra’s debut novel places readers in Chechnya during its decade-long conflict with Russia and offers up an 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)

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is set in an almost abandoned hospital in Chechnya in 2004, where a child, her caretaker and a doctor unravel the strange ties that bind them. It is a book of violence and beauty, and the undisputed arrival of a major new literary talent.” Globe and Mail

“Affecting and harrowing… A decade of war in Chechnya informs this multivalent, heartfelt debut, filled with broken families, lost limbs and valiant efforts to find scraps of hope and dignity.” Kirkus

“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

“Anthony Marra’s novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, is 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


From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Something hopeful out of so much pain

Would you consider the audio edition of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena to be better than the print version?

The narration was at times off putting, probably as a British listener I found certain pronounciation points jarred, and the lack of narrative inflexion made it more difficult to follow than it needed to be.


What did you like best about this story?

The story itself was excellent with great structure and layering of different perspectives.


Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, but I did finish it after our book club meeting as recommended by others, and it was well worth it.


Any additional comments?

Loved the story but this was the first time I felt let down by the weakness in narration.

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- Amazon Customer

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-05-2013
  • Publisher: Random House Audio