Book review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra

You know a good book is even though you’ve finished it and you have start a new book to read, the former still haunts you, even in your sleep. This one, right here, is one of those good books. I would have instantly gave it a five stars if it weren’t for my sad struggle during the first few chapters, but then again that struggle was on me, though, because I didn’t come prepared; I know nothing of neither the first nor the second Chechen War, so this book was definitely a struggle the first time I read it.

If you are familiar with this book, then you should already know that the whole entire book focuses on the five days after Havaa’s father was taken by the Feds. But this book also goes back and forth during the first and second Chechen War, with a little bit of a glimpse to the future to some of the characters. This bit of information should tell you how slow the story is, it will drive you insane because you kept on wondering where is this story going? There’s tons of pages left and yet how many more stories can go in just a span of five days? Here’s the answer, PLENTY! So, yeah, the book is definitely slow (we have concluded that) but in no way is this book boring. That surprises me, because usually slow-styled book would definitely be boring if not infuriating. I felt like, despite the harrowing background of the story, the book itself is very fresh; I have never read anything like this before (that might have because I don’t usually read as much as I have read this year). But, comes the last part of the book, there was a similar tinge of sadness that occurs when I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; the feeling of hopelessness and a wasteful of hard work going down the drain. Do not worry, though, for the two story totally works in a different way; I suggest you give All the Light We Cannot See a try (it was one of my favourite book of 2015).

Speaking of the story, be prepared to have your happiness drained out of you as you read this book. The whole entire book is filled with sadness, despair, horror, fear and what have you. Sure, there was some happy memories here and there, but it is not enough to account for all the harrowing parts . Now, don’t get me wrong; just because I said that you’ll feel your happiness drained out because of this book, this is not to say it is a bad thing, if anything this is exactly what makes the story so real. Again, do not mistake me for a masochist; just because I said the horror is what makes the story real does not mean I like sadness or pain, it’s just that the author weaves his words beautifully that even though he was telling such a sad and traumatic story, you are torn between seeing the story as a work of fiction or as a truth account of someone who went through it all by themselves. You can’t help but sympathise and tries your best to understand all the characters, even though you question their motives and intents all the time. Your brain really is a messed up landmine as you read this book.

As I have mentioned before, the story goes back and forth from the five days after Havaa’s father was taken by the Feds and to the time of the first and second Chechen War; while occasionally it goes even further to the time when some of the characters were still young and going far into the future when the some of the characters were already long gone. While this might seem confusing to people (especially for me) because the author could sometimes goes back and forth without the slightest bit of indication, this will calm you down because even at the most harrowing of situation, you’ll see a glimpse of hope that there is still a future for this or that character; just try to get used to the way the author tells his story before you decided that this book might not be for you. What I like to point out is that, even though this story goes back and forth, you would like to think that somewhere along the way the story will get predictable, right? Nope. Well, not until the story is almost finished anyway, and even then there is still this one last bit that you didn’t expect that would still surprises you anyway. Seriously, this book is so full of surprises. I am beyond happy that not even once had I managed to predict the story.

Word of advice, be prepared for a ride of twist and turn as you go through this book. The thing is, the author tend to use this ominous tone in the first half of the book, so you can’t help but guess where the story is going, thinking you’re such a smartypants. But then, BAM, you’re wrong! Not only that you are wrong, your guess does not come even close to the real revelation (well, one of my guess came close though, but just barely). I can help but be amazed at how the author could keep track of all the things he has said throughout the book only to bring it up again for the twist and turn at the last part. Seriously, the author is such a great story-teller.

But, now I feel like I’m just sprouting nonsense, because all I’ve been doing is just complimenting the story and saying how good it is; you might not believe me, but this book is that good. I don’t go around and compliment something if I know I just slightly like the book, I go all out if I like the book so much. But, just to be fair, I’ll tell you this much; although I think the author is a great story-teller, you have to be prepared because reading this book is like listening to your hyperactive friend tells a story, they would jump from one story to the other and get distracted easily, and would go to a lengthy details of things that in the end is not even important. Yes, although I did enjoy this book very much, I still am not that thrilled with the overly detailed description of a scene that goes on (what feels like) forever and it’s not even relevant (at least to me), but to each their own.

Now, if you like a story with incredible characters that are diverse and unique with multiple background stories, pick this book. If you like historical fiction, also pick this book up. If you like stories about hope without being too sappy, do please give this book a try. There are many parts in this book that will make you feel grateful for your life, not only for the freedom (however small it is) that you have, the health that you still own, the family you still see everyday, but also for the life and the beating heart that pumps blood through your veins in your body.

One of my favourite part was when two of the characters in this book were discussing about death and judgement day, and they were referring to surah Al-Haaqqa, which is the 69th sura in the Holy Qur’an. Do go to the Wikipedia page about the sura if you are interested, but I’ll cite the 13-18 verse taken from here,

Then when the Horn is blown with one blast And the earth and the mountains are lifted and levelled with one blow – Then on that Day, the Resurrection will occur, and the heaven will split [open], for that Day it is infirm. And the Angels are at its edges. And there will bear the Throne of your Lord above them, that Day, eight [of them]. That Day, you will be exhibited [for judgement]; not hidden amongst you is anything concealed.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Author: Anthony Marra

Goodreads link

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, War, Cultural




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s