A Constellation of Vital Phenomena takes place during the Chechen wars with Russia. The book starts off when Dokka is disappeared by Russian forces and his house is burned to the ground. The Russians are also looking for his young daughter Havaa, but she is able to escape and hide in the forest. Her neighbor Akhmed finds her and brings her into the next town, hoping a doctor he has heard tales of will keep her safe. And that is where the story really begins. The book jumps from past to present and back again, covering the decade of war and how it has affected the country and its people. It’s a story of fate bringing separate lives together, intertwining all of the characters, if even for just a brief moment in time.
It took me a while to get into this book. I don’t think I gave it a very fair chance at the get-go since I decided to make it my plane book. It’s not a light, fluffy novel that is easily interrupted by my sighing, looking out the airplane window and thinking, “How can we still not be there?!” So I took a break from the book, got back into it a couple of weeks later and grew to really appreciate it the second time around.
I thought the character development was great. It was well written and the language very imaginative in parts. I loved the little details the author added to make the characters’ lives come alive. As you’d imagine a book that takes place during a war is a bit of a heavy read, but the author lightened it up with humor here and there giving you a break for a sentence or two.
Maybe more than the story itself, I enjoyed the history lesson that went with it. When the Boston marathon bombing first occurred many news agencies brought up the fact that the Tsarnaev family were refugees from Chechnya and speculated that this may have played a part in their motives. At the time I didn’t know a thing about Chechnya, only that they had a rocky relationship with Russia, which could be said for just about any of Russia’s neighbors. So this book, although fiction, was an eye opener for the horrors that were happening across the world only a short time ago and still evidently continue to this day (learned from a little Wikipedia research).