A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Stegner Fellow, Iowa MFA, and winner of the Atlantic's emerging writer contest, Anthony Marra has written a brilliant debut novel that brings to life an abandoned hospital where a tough-minded doctor decides to harbour a hunted young girl, with powerful consequences.
     In the final days of December 2004, in a small rural village in Chechnya, 8-year-old Havaa hides in the woods when her father is abducted by Russian forces. Fearing for her life, she flees with their neighbour Akhmed to the bombed-out hospital, where Sonya, the one remaining doctor, treats a steady stream of wounded rebels and refugees. Over the course of 5 dramatic days, Akhmed and Sonya reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal and forgiveness that unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate.
     With The English Patient's dramatic sweep and The Tiger's Wife's expert sense of place, Marra gives us a searing debut about the transcendent power of love in wartime, and how it can cause us to become greater than we ever thought possible.


#1 Indie Next List Pick
An O, The Oprah Magazine Debut Novel to Pick Up Now

FINALIST 2013 – Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize
LONGLISTED 2013 – National Book Award
WINNER 2013 – NBCC John Leonard Prize
FINALIST 2014 – Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award
LONGLISTED 2014 – PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize

"Anthony Marra's fine debut novel reaches tenderly, unflinchingly into the centre of Chechen 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

"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

“The book encompasses torture, infidelity, heartbreak and human trafficking, but also love, friendship, family and humour. Marra doesn’t gloss over the horrors of the Chechen wars. But he doesn’t dwell either, and despite the subject matter, this is not an exclusively dark book. In his afterword, Marra acknowledges a debt to Michael Ondaatje. Like Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost, Vital Phenomena is about the gaps left behind by the forcibly disappeared. It’s a difficult subject for fiction, but one Marra manages with a voice that approaches something like the gauzy beauty of Ondaatje’s prose.”

“The simplest life cannot precisely be put down in details or marks on a page—the spirit fundamentally escapes language, if only because we can’t pronounce the words. Nonetheless, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena proves that if anything, it’s better, more beautiful and necessary to keep trying.”
—Emily M. Keeler, The Globe and Mail
“Some good novels catch fire immediately, as if a writer had simply opened a Zippo lighter. Others come into being more gradually. The author cautiously tends to his or her kindling. Anthony Marra’s first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, belongs to the second category. It’s a slow burn….  The strange and invigorating thing about Mr. Marra’s novel…is how much human warmth and comedy he smuggles, like samizdat, into his busy story. At heart he’s a satirist, a lover not a fighter, a prose writer who resembles the Joseph Heller of Catch-22 and the Jonathan Safran Foer of Everything Is Illuminated. Mr. Marra’s humor floats most freely in his dialogue, which is both acidic and surreal. If novel writing does not work out for him, he might easily become a world-class playwright…. Mr. Marra is a lovely writer about families…. He is, in fact, a lovely writer about many things…. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is ambitious and intellectually restless. It’s humane and absurd, and rarely out of touch with the Joseph-Heller-like notion that, as Mr. Marra puts it, ‘stupidity was the single abiding law of the universe.’”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review
“A complex debut.... [Marra writes] with elegant details about the physical and emotional destruction of occupation and war.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)