I've read 7 books so far this year, but only one of them has received a 5/5 star rating. It was eye-opening and informative and gave me so many feels. What book would that be? A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra.
"Life: a constellation of vital phenomena-organization, irritability, movement, growth, reproduction, adaptation."
In a nutshell...
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena takes place in Russian controlled Chechnya, swapping back and forth between occurrences that take place over a few decades. We meet several individuals throughout the novel, including Havaa, an eight-year-old girl who watches her father get abducted, Akhmed, the neighbor who makes it his mission to save her, and Sonja, the doctor who single-handedly runs the barely-standing hospital. It's a novel about war, about loss, and about the connections you have with others that you may not even know about.
Bad news first:
In my opinion, this book had a pretty slow start. For this reason, it took me forever to get through the first 1/3 of it. The are a lot of run-on sentences...I swear there was one sentence that took up an entire page and a half on its own. While the story was still in the process of picking up, that sometimes made it difficult for me to focus on exactly what I was reading.
Now for the good:
Although the run-on sentences sometimes gave me a run for my money, they also somehow make sense because the writing style is so incredibly gorgeous. Once I adapted to it and became fully invested in the story, I couldn't get enough of it! The descriptions and choices of words had a maturity to them that is rare to experience.
Historical fiction is my favorite book genre, hands down. This time period where Chechnya was fighting to gain their independence from Russia is so different than anything I have ever read. I can't vouch for how historically accurate the "fact" side of the book is, but I still feel like it brings attention to a part of history that is not often discussed. Marra does a great job of giving us a look at how both the Chechens and the Russians were affected by the conflicts.
I also can't even describe how much I fell in love with some of the characters. Akhmed is so unique...he's this great mixture of quirky and good-hearted and subtly brave. The background characters are equally strong, and you are able to feel every emotion, good or bad, that the characters experience.
Being set in a time of war obviously means there are some scenes that are difficult and uncomfortable to read, but Marra somehow manages to balance out all of those more intense moments with moments of humor. There is a part close to the beginning where Akhmed thinks that Ronald McDonald was an American president. That part is revisited later in the book and made me laugh out loud. Here is a little snippet of that conversation between Akhmed and Sonja, for your reading pleasure:
"I'm sorry I called you an idiot."
"You only implied it. Do you want to make it up to me?"
"Not really," she said.
"Then tell me who Ronald McDonald is."
"Very soon I'll have to apologize for calling you an idiot again"
"Imply," he reminded.
"No, this time I'll likely come out and say it."
"I already know he isn't the American president."
"I think you'll be disappointed."
"I almost always am."
"He's a clown."
"A clown who sells hamburgers."
"Does he cook the hamburgers?"
"Does it matter?"
"I may be an idiot," he said gravely, "but I would never eat a hamburger cooked by a clown."
So...yay or nay?
YES! You should read this book, unless you just absolutely hate historical fiction or books with any sort of depth to them. If you have a hard time with difficult content, you may also want to stay away. It s heart-breaking, but also one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read.
Have you read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena? What is the best book you have read so far this year?