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About the book
  • Published: 16 May 2013
  • ISBN: 9781448130856
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 432

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

When everything else seems lost, watch out for the unexpected ties that bind us together...

*** Granta Best of Young American Novelists 2017 ***

In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help.

For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it’s just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate.

'A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular' Ann Patchett

  • Pub date: 16 May 2013
  • ISBN: 9781448130856
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 432

About the Author

Anthony Marra

Anthony Marra's first novel was A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013), which won an array of prizes including the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize, the Barnes and Noble Fiction Discover Award, the Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle and the Athens Prize for Literature, and appeared on more than twenty Books of the Year lists. This was followed by The Tsar of Love and Techno. A Granta Best of Young American Novelists 2017, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop,a Guggenheim Fellow and Whiting Award recipient, Marra lives in Oakland, California, and teaches at Stanford University. Visit http://anthonymarra.net/.

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Praise for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular. Not since Everything is Illuminated have I read a first novel so ambitious and fully realized. If this is where Anthony Marra begins his career, I can't imagine how far he will go”

Ann Patchett

“Storytelling of magical purity, illuminated by hope... Marra is a magnificent writer”

Vanora Bennett, The Times

“An extraordinary first novel... A 21st-century War and Peace”

New York Times

“Both heart-wrenching and uplifting, a stunning, intricately plotted, brilliantly written, tour-de-force of a novel that burns into the memory”


“A powerful tale... rivals anything Michael Ondaatje has written in its emotional force”

John Freeman, Boston Globe

“50 Best Spring Reads”


“A book of violence and beauty, and the undisputed arrival of a major new talent”

Globe and Mail, Canada

“Remarkable and breathtaking, Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a spellbinding elegy for an overlooked land engulfed by an oft forgotten war. Set in the all-too-real Chechen conflict, Marra conjures fragile and heartfelt characters whose fates interrogate the very underpinnings of love and sacrifice”

Adam Johnson, New York Times bestselling and Pulitzer Prizewinning author of The Orphan Master’s Son

“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”

TC Boyle

“Anthony Marra’s novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, is both devastating and transcendent. The story of eight people (and a nation) navigating two brutal wars, it’s a novel of loyalty and sacrifice and enduring love. You’ll finish it transformed”

Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It

“Anthony Marra’s fine debut novel reaches tenderly, unflinchingly, into the center of the Chechnyan 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

“It’s hard to think of an American writer who has so convincingly transported readers into the lives of characters as geopolitically distant as the cast of Chechens whose stories Anthony Marra braids together in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Mr. Marra gives us no anchorage in a familiar point-of-view. Instead, he gives us the natives of a peripheral Chechen village, and makes us imagine the world that is their village so convincingly that we forget how remote it is. The novel is a wondrous machine of many moving parts, all whirring together like clockwork, gracefully guiding us backward and forward in time, events unfolding in an order that feels inevitable. His ambitions are Tolstoyan, and he brings stylistic virtuosity to the prose, giving us lyric passages saturated with intelligence and psychological insight. By the end of the novel, we love the characters and grieve with them, and rejoice with the "immense, spinning joy" that is the novel's final note.”

Whiting Writers' Awards, Selection Committee

“A truly impressive debut novel – undeniably grim, but ultimately uplifting – that hints at a stellar future”


“Anthony Marra’s impressive debut novel…much like Tolstoy’s Chechen novel, Hadji Murad, exudes an air of quiet resignation”


“An absolute masterpiece... I can't wait to see what's next for this extraordinarily talented young author”

Sarah Jessica Parker, Entertainment Weekly

“resembles the Joseph Heller of Catch-22 and the Jonathan Safran Foer of Everything Is Illuminated”

Dwight Garner, New York Times

“Wonderfully lyrical… Ambitious and moving”

Kate Saunders, Saga

“extraordinary first novel... a 21st-century War and Peace”

Madison Smartt Bell, New York Times

“Both heart wrenching and uplifting, a stunning, intricately plotted, brilliantly written, tour-de-force of a novel that burns into the memory”


“Mr Marra is trying to capture some essence of the lives of men and women caught in the pincers of a brutal, decade-long war, and at this he succeeds beautifully... its ending is almost certain to leave you choked up and, briefly at least, transformed by tenderness.”

Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is one of the most accomplished and affecting books I've read in a very long time.”

Meg Wolitzer, NPR

“At the start of Marra's ambitious first novel, set in Chechnya during the Second Chechen War, eight year-old Havaa escapes the Russian soldiers that are carting off her father and flees a home set alight. Marra then plunges into a complex, beautifully crafted series of events, full of secrets and elegant moments, all wreathed in a frozen world.”


“Some novels defy gravity, spanning years and crossing ruined landscapes and entire solar systems of characters while still maintaining an ethereal, almost impossible lightness. Anthony Marra’s debut novel is one of them, and it does indeed call to mind an astronomical marvel. Taking place in war-ravaged Chechnya across a decade, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a stunning debut, following a timid but determined country doctor and the girl he rescues once her father is arrested and presumably killed. Marra elegantly slides across time and perspective, mastering an omniscient voice that reveals each character’s future, present, and past, all in acrobatic sentences that leap through time.”

The Rumpus

“A flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles… Here, in fresh, graceful prose, is a profound story that dares to be as tender as it is ghastly… I haven’t been so overwhelmed by a novel in years. At the risk of raising your expectations too high, I have to say you simply must read this book”

Ron Charles, Washington Post

“Marra is a brisk and able story-teller, and he moves deftly between a number of characters who are drawn into contact by the war… The writing is vivid throughout”

New Yorker

“Original, insightful”

Neil Stewart, Civilian

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