Vital Publications

ConstellationA customer recently contacted our store to formally request that we not carry the August issue of Rolling Stone due to the controversial image on its cover. I appreciate her concerns, and agree that it’s poor taste for the magazine to portray the young man accused of planting bombs at the Boston Marathon as though he were a celebrity (see the Huffington Post for a discussion on the cover’s design). Personally I object to the portayal, but, as a university store, we have decided not to join the boycott of the issue. We want to add to the discussion, not take away from it. The issue will be available on request, but not displayed. In its place I will be promoting A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra.

It is a devastating story, told with immaculate care by a decorated debut author. Marra didn’t take an easy route for his first novel, although I wouldn’t term it overly ambitious. To crib from the title, it is a vital story, one that required refined skill to write and needed to be published (and I commend Hogarth for doing so). It is a necessary read for anyone trying to understand the violent forces that shape the people of Chechnya. There is nothing glamorous in the portrayal of violence for the sake of any cause, not even in the amputation of a leg mutilated by a mine, as in the attacks in Boston.

Only eight-year-old Havaa isn’t compromised in this constant struggle to survive, but she is without recourse when her father is taken by Russian forces. She hides in the woods as her house is burned to the ground. The Russians will leave no trace of her family, without exceptions. Her father’s friend Akhmed finds her first, and takes her from their remote village of Eldar to the city of Volchansk, where there is a shelled-out hospital. A single surgeon named Sonja still operates the hospital, but she too has been shelled out by ten years of fighting. Akhmed, the village’s unlicensed doctor, trades his rudimentary assistance for Havaa’s boarding in the hospital. Akhmed (a Chechnyan) and Sonja (a Russian) continue to function in their grim circumstances, and between them they manage to spare Havaa from a terrible fate.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a tragic tale of friends, family, and neighbors who alternately wrong and ultimately redeem one another. It should resonate with anyone who experienced the ‘B Strong’ resolve that swept through Boston in the wake of the deplorable attack. I recommend keeping the focus on the survivors who carried one another to safety, which is why I strongly recommend this book.

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One Response to “Vital Publications”

  1. jaclemens Says:

    It was satisfying to tear the cover off the magazine today. We didn’t sell any copies – but we didn’t sell my alternative, either.

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