A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is an incredible moving book about a terrible place. Set just after the second Chechen War, the novel exposes the intense brutality of Russia's occupation of the North Caucasus. It shows its human toll: people savaged in mind and body, forced to betray each other, forced to disappoint and compromise each other. But the novel also shows love in its purest form, especially the love between parent and child. The book wraps up a bit too neatly to be believable----towards the end it takes on the tone of magical realism. But I found myself weeping at 3 am, so deeply moved by it I had to stay up and finish. Colette Whitaker's performance was mostly good. As somebody who has spent time in this part of the world, I found it really annoying that she gave all the Chechen speakers Russian accents. (Chechen and Russian have NOTHING in common! They're about as closely related as French and Swahili are). But her voice was lively and full of color, and she made the book come alive.
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