Anthony Marra’s brilliant debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth, $26), describes the horrors of war in battle-scarred Chechnya. Ordinary people there, however, carry on their lives with humor, perseverance, and a grave sense of history. At the heart of this story is Sonja, a talented and fearless doctor who operates in the remnants of a bombed-out hospital. Havaa, an orphan girl sought by the Russian army after her parents are killed and her home destroyed, is brought to the hospital for shelter, and she and Sonja develop a bond that provides a rare occasion for hope in this raw, devastated land. Marra’s deep understanding of people in crisis and his richly imagined depiction of a city ravaged by violence combine to make this an unforgettable reading experience.
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