June, 2014: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

(Book #50)  Geri gave shelter to five starving refugees off the road from Grozny and we were humbled by her generosity. We ate bread, borscht, lamb and rice stuffed peppers — an unexpected feast. She provided us with maps of Chechnya and surrounding area to make our way…  Not everyone enjoyed the book as much as I did, but I mark it as one of my Teacher’s Pets. I think Anthony Marra’s writing is genius and one of my favorite aspects of his writing is the way he writes in time, jumping into the future to explain all that would take place over time:

In twelve and a third years, the girl, now a woman, would accompany Sonja on a five-day holiday to London. When the night porter asked ‘Would your daughter care for an herbal tea?’ it wouldn’t cross Sonja’s mind to correct him. It wouldn’t have crossed her mind for some time. At the end of five days, they would leave London. Sonja would never see the city again. Havaa would.”

“In twenty years Sonja would find Natasha’s name beside her own in the final sentence of the acknowledgements of Havaa’s dissertation.” 

On the morning he left, he wore a red sweater with golden diamonds woven across the chest. He had never filled it out, as her mother had predicted he would when she had given it to him five Christmases earlier. He would be wearing that sweater two and a half years later, just north of the border, when a stolen cement mixing truck would slam into his lorry cabin, cutting short his life, his final haul, and his five-week odyssey to return home to his girls.”

“Six days later the Feds would enter the city. They would launch a single mortar round at the hospital in retaliation for sheltering rebels. That round would hit the fourth-floor storage room. Maali would be searching for clean sheets. She would land atop the rubble, four floors below, her pulse slowing in her wrist.”

Occasionally he used time comparisons to date things going on concurrently:

“Mirza died when she was thirty-nine. Akhmed was seven. The cancer in her stomach was just eight months old.”

And now I’ll just add some favorite quotes:

“For months they’d run their fingers around the hem of their affection without once acknowledging the fabric.”

“When he reached the end, he did not die. He called your name and began to live in you.”

And of course the very last line of the novel which one shouldn’t give away other than to say despite all circumstances, the book ends with “an immense spinning joy.”