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Ohhhh. Ever since I finished Hill’s NOS4A2, I’ve been drifting. My life feels empty, my lunches and daylight reading hours without meaning. I’m devouring book after book without tasting them. I burned through Tanner’s Vaclav and Lena, Thompson’s The Humanity Project, O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye (good), and Attenberg’s The Middlesteins (really good) searching for my next nesting place.

I think maybe I found it.

Anthony Marra’s much-anticipated A Constellation of Vital Phenomena seems to be living up to the hype. It’s a story about an 8-year-old Chechen girl whose house (and family) is burned during the night, orphaning her in her hiding place in the snowy woods. Her neighbor, the kind but troubled Akhmed with misery of his own, brings Havaa to the city hospital, to the one remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina.

There’s more, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. Who could blame me with such beautiful words and passages to slow me down? There’s much thinking to be done, and I love that as much as the beauty.

“You shouldn’t rush,” he said. “There are no taste buds in your stomach.”
She paused to consider his reasoning, then took another bite. “There’s no hunger in your tongue,” she mumbled between chews.


“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.”


“With deep breaths he tried to unweave threads of diesel fumes or burning rubber from the air.”


“He is very good at chess,” the girl snapped, and glared at Akhmed. Grammar was the only place the girl could keep her father alive, and after amending Akhmed’s statement, she leaned back against the wall and with small, certain breaths, said is, is, is. Her father was the face of her morning and night, he was everything, so saturating Havaa’s world that she could no more describe him than she could the air.”

How could you not read this gorgeously penned novel with examples like those? I don’t know about you, but it’s feeling all kinds of Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife to me, but with a soul all its own.