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About the book
  • Published: 3 March 2014
  • ISBN: 9780099575573
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 432
  • RRP: $19.99

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: 3 March 2014
  • ISBN: 9780099575573
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 432
  • RRP: $19.99

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 Masterâ??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 Headmasterâ??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”


“Wonderfully lyrical… Ambitious and moving”

Kate Saunders, Saga

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


“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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