Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book 142: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

This wasn't a quick read by any means.  It was definitely a good book, and Marra did a very good job of humanizing all his characters, providing background to all of them and showing how the war affected people with just little snippets, but it definitely wasn't something that I could just quickly read or get absorbed.  It took me a few chapters to adjust to his style, to get to know the characters and to get invested.  Having said that, it's one of those books that I was glad I read after I completed it, and it definitely pays off, so while there is so much that is dark, there is also hope in the ending.
After Dokka is taken, Akhmed finds Havaa in the forest, and decides he must save her life.  Dokka was his best friend and he feels he owes him a debt.  Due to the flow of refugees that has come through the village in previous years, Akhmed knows the name of a surgeon at a hospital over 11 kilometers away, and takes Havaa there for protection.  This surgeon is a Russian in Chechnya, and trained in England but returned to her home because of her sister Natasha.  When Akhmed appears at her hospital, Natasha has disappeared for the second time.
Akhmed is medically trained and convinces Sonja to let Havaa stay in return for his services even though he may be the worst doctor in the country (but a tolerable portrait artist).  Though it takes a while to really get going and connect, eventually the cast starts to come together, revealing hidden connections, family secrets and betrayals.  The story flashes back and forth over a ten year period, between the present day of 2004, and as far back as 1994.  With his selection of characters, Marra is able to touch on a large variety of aspects of Chechen history, including relocation and the population of the area with ethnic Russians, the slave and sex trafficking that took advantage of the women of a war torn country, and various other stories and people, small and large.
Eventually, everything ties together rather poetically, and I ended up quite liking the novel, but I would say it took me over half the novel to really get into it.  Basically, save this one for when you have the time and concentration and aren't just looking for a quick escape.

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