Genre: Russian

Book Review – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

February 17, 2015 Dani Dani's Reviews 1 Comment

I received this book free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony MarraA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Published by Hogarth on May 7th 2013
Pages: 416
Genres: Historical Fiction, Russian
Format: Paperback
Source: Blogging for Books
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four-stars

New York Times Notable Book of the Year * Washington PostTop Ten Book of the Year

In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa 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.

For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

Now with Extra Libris material, including a reader’s guide and bonus content from the author.

“Each night he told her a new chapter, and so many nights had gone by, so many chapters had been told, that they referred to it as chapters rather than a story, because stories had endings and theirs had none.”

Before reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, I knew very little about Chechnya. Hell, I probably couldn’t even point to it on a map (if you’re curious, it’s here). I will admit, I was intimidated to read a book with a subject and a people so far removed from my wheelhouse. Fear not! There are snip-its of history woven in that provide enough detail to not feel like a noob, but not so much that it is like reading a text book.

I found strong similarities in theme and message to other books that deal with wars on ethnicity or identity (like Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Night by Elie Wiesel, and The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper). More than that, I discovered a profound connection to the characters simply as a human being who has experienced uncertainty and sorrow, joy and love.

“In the shoebox the identity cards were layered eight deep. She held a card to the light and set it back down. ‘He’s one of these,’ she said.”

Despite its moments of violence and terror, the core of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is about normal people trying to survive while their world disintegrates. It’s about a woman who can’t stop thinking about the last thing she said to her sister who has gone missing in the chaos of war. It’s about a father who obsesses over the mistakes he made with his son, and will do anything to make them right. And it’s about a man, who risks his freedom and his life, to save a little orphan girl.

“He had always tried to treat Havaa as a child and she always went along with it, as though childhood and innocence were fantastical creatures that had died long ago, resurrected only in games of make believe.”

Some of my favorite moments in this all-too-heavy book are the brief glimpses of humor and happiness – a little girl trying to teach a one-armed man to juggle, a man sharing his only food with stray dogs that roam his neighborhood, and discussions about how turtles evolved.

While A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is artfully crafted, I’m not certain I would recommend it to anyone. It is gut wrenching, heart breaking and emotionally exhausting. Should you choose to read this book, be sure you have something fluffy lined up for afterwards.

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Audiobook Review – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

February 2, 2013 Bonnie Adult, Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Read in 2013 6 Comments

Audiobook Review – Lolita by Vladimir NabokovLolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Narrator: Jeremy Irons
Published by Random House Audio on June 27th 2006 (first published 1955)
Length: 11 hours and 32 minutes
Genres: Classics, Cultural, Literary Fiction, Romance, Russian
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads


five-stars

When it was published in 1955, Lolita immediately became a cause célèbre because of the freedom and sophistication with which it handled the unusual erotic predilections of its protagonist. But Vladimir Nabokov's wise, ironic, elegant masterpiece owes its stature as one of the twentieth century's novels of record not to the controversy its material aroused but to its author's use of that material to tell a love story almost shocking in its beauty and tenderness.

Awe and exhilaration--along with heartbreak and mordant wit--abound in this account of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America, but most of all, it is a meditation on love--love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation."

‘It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.’

Lolita is likely one of the most controversial stories in 20th century literature to date. Lolita has been coined as a ‘love story’ and even ‘erotic’. In all honesty, this was simply Humbert attempting to convince himself (and others) that his actions were normal and completely justified. By the end pages, I could honestly say that Humbert believed wholeheartedly he truly loved Lolita, that he always had the best of intentions for her and that he was a good father to her. His version of love was of course far from normal and was quite sick and twisted indeed but because we’re only seeing this story from his point of view it’s obviously a biased and glamorized interpretation.

‘We live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in a world of things. Words without experience are meaningless.’

But to me that was the most amazing part of this story. When you really think about this story as a whole, you know what he did was wrong, you know that he changed that 12 year-old girl irrevocably and you can almost despise him for the fact that he blamed her for seducing him initially. However, despite all that, I know I’m not the only reader that struggled to not feel at least a slight bit of sympathy for him. And that’s the true brilliance of it.

‘And the rest is rust and stardust.’

Lolita is a truly remarkably written story that was undoubtedly shocking after its initial publication in 1955. I can’t help but find it severely unlikely though that it would have ever been published during this day and age.

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