The University of Iowa

Review: Marra's "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena"

"Anthony Marra’s first novel, 'A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,' is a flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles.

Go ahead and sneer at the thin atmosphere of America’s MFA programs, but this Washington-born graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is a testament to the vibrancy of contemporary fiction. Here, in fresh, graceful prose, is a profound story that dares to be as tender as it is ghastly, a story about desperate lives in a remote land that will quickly seem impossibly close and important.

'A Constellation of Vital Phenomena' opens in a tiny, blood-soaked village of Chechnya, that part of the world that drifts into our consciousness only briefly — when, say, the Russians crush it again or, more recently, when young zealots detonate pressure cookers in Boston. But the unforgettable characters in this novel are not federalists or rebels or terrorists. They aren’t particularly religious or political; we see only glimpses of loyal Russian officers or fanatical Muslims. Instead, these are just fathers and mothers and children — neighbors snagged in the claws of history."

Read: Anthony Marra’s ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,’ reviewed by Ron Charles