Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My book club has read three books about war in the past six months: All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, and now A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Reading them so close together made me see that on an elemental level, all books about war are the same–the lives of ordinary people are overturned by extraordinary events; people are forced to make terrible moral choices; betrayals and cruelty ensue; in the end, a spark of human virtue prevails. Of the three books, I liked this one the best because I found all the characters to be complex and compelling. Also, although this book is the most gruesome of the three, it also picks up on moments of absurdity and humor that can occur even at the darkest of times. This book takes place during the First and Second Chechen Wars, and you can certainly be forgiven f you know absolutely nothing about them, even though they took place between 1995–2004 (I had to look them up on Wikipedia). The politics of the wars really doesn’t enter into the story that much–the backdrop could be any war, anywhere. The entire novel examines the intersections of the lives of four neighbors in a small village with a woman surgeon and her sister in a nearby large town. Love, loyalty, family ties,and betrayal are all examined through the lens of war. The author flips back and forth in time. In the beginning, this technique is confusing, and there is so much description that I probably would have given up on the book if it hadn’t been for book club. However, I must say the second half was quite compelling,and our group had a great discussion of the book. But honestly, I’ve gotten all there is to get from this genre and I’ve made my book club take an oath: no more war books!

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