Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

After Ann Patchett's raving recommendation of this book at last year's WNBA Award presentation, I was curious, although it's not a book I'd normally pick up. Luckily it was also a Great Group Reads pick, so my WNBA book club read it.

And it was still not my cup of tea. I found it slow going with a lot of characters to keep track of in a place I was unfamiliar with (Chechnya) and with two time frames. At times I was tempted to put the book down, but I didn't particularly dislike it. And I was assured that it all comes together in the end and it does.

There's an 8-year-old girl, Havaa, who runs to the woods when her father is abducted by Russian soldiers who also burn down her house.  neighbor, Akhmed, finds Havaa and takes her to the one person he knows of outside their small town who might be able to keep Havaa safe: Sonja, a doctor. Akhmed also went to medical school (although he is a terrible doctor) but he starts to work alongside Sonja, amputating limbs, in order to gain her trust so she will take Havaa. Sonja is worried about her missing sister, Natasha, and thinks she might have come through Havaa and Akhmed's town at some point as a refugee.

While I didn't love the book, I'm glad I stuck with it and it does improve considerably when you finally see where everything was headed. It turns out I really didn't have to worry about the two time-lines as it's not crucial when they each are and they merge together at the end. I found a couple of scenes very funny, such as when Akhmed and Sonja discuss what they know of American politics, and I wished there were more of those. But it is hard to find humor in a war zone. It was a great discussion book as we all had questions and there were a lot of decisions we could debate and choices that were questionable. The characters were very well-drawn with even minor ones being fully developed. And I could visualize the setting, it was described so well (I am not a visual reader and rarely picture what I'm reading.) Overall, I liked it okay, but I wasn't blown away by it like other readers.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble.

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