Friday, April 25, 2014

"A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" by Anthony Marra

I chose to read this book as I noticed that it was given a 5-star 'must read' review on the Booklover Book Reviews blog. The interesting title also caught my attention.

I don't know quite how to describe this book. It is set during two separate times of war in Chechnya, during 1994 and 2004. It focuses on several different characters all caught up in the same conflicts in different ways. A talented female surgeon, her sister, a failed doctor who dreamed of being an artist, his neighbour the arborist and his 8-year old daughter, and a neighbour-informer and his old father. It actually took me a while to figure out that different chapters were dedicated not only to different characters points of view but also different time points. I'm not sure if it was just me that got confused by this, or if it was due to the kindle format I was reading as the start of each chapter shows a timeline from 1994-2004 and the year that the chapter will cover is highlighted in bold, but at least on my kindle edition the bold font was not much stronger than the rest of the font so I didnt notice until part way through the book. Might have been easier if each chapter just had the year, rather than a timeline with one year slightly bolder...My mistake though. And despite this initial confusion of time, I have to say this is definitely a '5-star must read' book. I didn't know a lot/anything about the Chechnyan conflicts despite them occurring fairly recently, so historically I found it educational, while the characters and their stories completely drew me in. It isn't a cheerful story, and there are sections that involve torture and brutality which I never find easy to read. Yet there are moments that are really beautiful in the book. I guess the main feeling I got from reading the book was how war and conflict can bring out the best or worst in humans...for some people it brings out unbelievable cruelty and hunger for power, others make choices to inform on neighbours or allow brutalities to occur through desperation while trying to protect people that are close to them, and yet others risk everything to save, protect and help others. I am thankful I have not had to personally live through such an experience where making those kind of decisions are necessary. I recommend this book highly.

Started reading on my kindle: 25th April 2014
Finished: 24th May 2014
My score: 10/10

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