A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was our book clubs April 2014 read. Amazon describes this book as:
In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa 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 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. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves 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.
This book was a bit heavier than anything we have read recently. Some of us stumbled through a deeper read with names (like Ahkmed, Khassan Akim, Maali,) and words that caused your mind pause as you sorted through the sound and meaning. Admittedly, several Bookies were lost along the way and stopped early on in the read not finding their way around the words or the drawn out nature of the authors way of writing.
On the flip of that – a few Bookies loved the challenge of the language and wholeheartedly embraced this fictional and historical read based around the Chechnya war.
“At the kitchen table she examined the glass of ice. Each cube was rounded by room temperature, dissolving in its own remains, and belatedly she understood that this was how a loved one disappeared. Despite the shock wave of walking into an empty flat, the absence isn’t immediate, more a fade from the present tense you shared, a melting into the mast, not an erasure but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it.”
― Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Whatever side of the book you fell on, yay or nay – we all had to admit it made for an interesting and engaging discussion. Usually when I bring up a discussion question during the group’s time together one or two of us will respond with our thoughts and we move on, but this time,this book, brought out more discussion, some heated, some pained, much filled with facts,mixed with the facts of this war and the historic beauty as well. I found myself as the “note taker” of the group, just sitting back and listening to the conversations of what each person found within this books pages. Their discussion and enthusiasm made me want to dig in more.
We were, for the most part, touched that the books events actually happened in our lifetime… and in the end we were able to pull out themes in the books such as connectedness and the importance of it, humor within a dark world, author Anthony Marra pulls a deep passionate look at a war-torn country in this debut novel.
Of course we had food…
The pudding, while quite to the point of the book – was pretty impressive. I made the upper right hand corner Chechnya spicy chicken from the culture and the 4th picture down of the wheat pasta to tone done the strong taste of the chicken. Lemon rice (2nd picture down) was mentioned in the book, the Gnocchi Salad (3rd picture down) was culturally correct, and the yummy desert on the bottom… well… yummy. :)
What will book clubs like about this book?
A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena will bring up some all so real discussion of what this was war must have been like to live through. Discussion can lead to just what a fragile society we are, by removing resources we could just as easily experience something like this. This is a book that caused conversation and emotion to flow freely -for our group, I barely needed to ask questions to stimulate conversation, we were talking about the book from the moment we walked in the door.
While not a light fun read or discussion, it is one that will cause your group feel that they just read something very important and most likely come out the other side knowing a little more about our world.
Personal note: as of this writing, I sadly admit I have not thoroughly read this book myself. In a busy month and finding the book more work to get into than some, I skimmed the pages getting the feel for the discussion. I would also like to note after listening to my group share their thoughts on this book, I know I will be going back and reading it properly because hard read or not… I think this one is important for me to get a strong feel for this book…. something tells me, this one may move on to something more and I do love being ahead of the media. :) ~Sheila