Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa’s house. But when he finds her hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.
"A bleak, beautiful debut"
Bob talks to Anthony Marra about his novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which has just come out in paperback. It was a New York Times bestseller when it was published in May 2013. This week it was shortlisted for the Pen Literary Award (for first fiction). The novel is set in a small village in Chechnya, a breakaway republic in southern Russia during the 1990’s and early 2000’s. During these years, Russian troops abducted anyone suspected of helping or sympathizing with Chechen separatists. Marra’s characters in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena are not the soldiers, or partisans in the war, but ordinary people doing whatever they can to survive in a war zone.
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 lifelong 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.