Likely to be the most-reviewed debut of the year, Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (RH/Hogarth) is also the only English-language novel about the conflicts in Chechnya. It happens to arrive just as the American public has become more aware of that troubled history.
It also happens to arrive with a good deal of fanfare. One of the first consumer reviews, Dwight Garner’s appears in the print edition of the NYT tomorrow. Noting that, since it is based on true stories of torture during the Chechen wars, it “can be sickening reading,” but he says it is leavened by the “human warmth and comedy [Marra] smuggles, like samizdat, into his busy story.” The review is only intermittently laudatory, however. Garner admits, “I admired this novel more than I warmed to it.”
There were no negatives in the review on NPR’s All Things Considered last night from a surprising source. Meg Wolitzer, who has written that men’s fiction gets more serious literary attention than does women’s, delivered a rave for this book by a male novelist, calling it “an absorbing novel about unspeakable things” that is “highly, deeply readable.”
UPDATE: Washington Post’s Ron Charles is also a fan, calling it “a flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles … At the risk of raising your expectations too high, I have to say you simply must read this book.” If you’re going to read just one review of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, this the one. It is the most thoughtful and literate.
Expect many more reviews in the next couple of weeks. Library holds are still light at this point, but growing.