A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

 

15797715.jpg

My Review:

I missed this stunner from 2013 and was thrilled to backtrack and read Anthony Marra’s debut novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena set during wartime in Chechnya over the time span of 10 years.  Eight year old Havaa’s father is taken away in the night by the Russian army and her house is set on fire.   The family friend and neighbor, Akhmed, finds her hiding in the backyard with a suitcase she had prepared months before under her father’s advise and he leaves his ailing wife for the day while he brings the young girl to a nearby bombed out hospital for safety.  He puts Havaa in the care of the only remaining doctor, Sonia, who agrees to harbor the child, now a target of the Russian military, and he also volunteers to help out at the understaffed medical facility.

There are four pairs of characters that are intertwined in this story…the young child Havaa and her abducted father Dokka, neighbor Akhmed and his sick wife Ula, physician Sonia and her missing drug-addicted sister Natasha, Khasssam, Akhmed’s friend and scholar and his estranged informant son, Ramzan.  A Constellation of Vital Phenomena alternates time periods from 1994 – 2004 and the story tells what each of these characters endured during this time of war.  From sex trafficking and drug addition, to torture and mutilation, from births and deaths, to promises kept and secrets told, each and every part of this powerful story is a crucial piece of the puzzle and may warrant re-reading so nothing is missed.  The Russian names added to the complexity for me, but reviewing sections lead me to unforgettable revelations and made the book even more rich and colorful despite the bleak setting.

As we learn of the characters’ histories throughout the chapters, author Anthony Marra has them unleashing memories that provide us with incite and understanding, and binds them together to form the intricate mosaic of deep relationships.  These damaged people of Chechnya try to recover from their violent pasts as they search to find meaning in their experiences and purpose in the now. This is a most vivid storytelling of a profound and unforgettable story.  If you haven’t read it, you should.

Goodreads Summary

5989255.jpg

About the Author:

ANTHONY MARRA is the winner of a Whiting Award, Pushcart Prize, and the Narrative Prize. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John Leonard Prize and the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction, as well as the inaugural 2014 Carla Furstenberg Cohen Fiction Award. Marra’s novel was a National Book Award long list selection as well as a shortlist selection for the Flaherty-Dunnan first novel prize. In addition, his work has been anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. He received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where he teaches as the Jones Lecturer in Fiction. He has lived and studied in Eastern Europe, and now resides in Oakland, CA. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is his first novel.

Advertisements

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

 

35142025

My Review:

Combine late hours working at the hospital with an irresistible, handsome, charming and persistent doctor…friendships and disasters go hand in hand in Kimmery Martin’s debut, The Queen of Hearts.  Zadie and Emma are best friends, from medical school to the present, currently living in North Carolina and both practicing doctors.  But as close as they were and are, there are still deep secrets they haven’t shared with each other, and when an old colleague moves to town, it conjures up the past memories, and they are forced to reveal some painful truths from their youth.

Kimmery Martin shows us how relationships evolve and grow overtime, so much so that when lives become intertwined, lifelong friendship can prevail and even the worst betrayal can be forgiven.

I do love a love triangle in a medical setting, and for those who enjoy tv shows like ER, Grey’s Anatomy and Chicago Med, this wonderful tale of the heart is for you!

As Seen on Goodreads:

Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years.

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie’s life–both professionally and personally–throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.

16855179.jpg

About the Author:

Kimmery Martin is a physician, book reviewer, author interviewer, travel blogger, obsessive reader, and general all-around literary nerd who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and three children. The Queen of Hearts is her first novel.

 

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

25893693.jpg

My Review:

 

If you missed the release of Lilac Girls, now is the time to buy the paperback.  It is historical fiction based on true and harrowing events during World War II.  For me, the Holocaust has always been mostly about how the Jews were prosecuted; a devastating time in our history across the world.  But of course the Jewish people were not the only ones who were affected.  Author Martha Hall Kelly gets up close and personal with Kasia, a young Polish girl with Jewish ancestry who is completing secret missions for the underground anti-war efforts and is captured by the Gestapo with her sister and her mother… Herta, an out of work, German doctor who is offered a job at the women’s re-education camp and forced to execute by lethal injections… and Caroline, a New York francophile who sent supplies to the orphanages in France and who becomes a hero and savior to many.

Each chapter is about one of the three women; we learn about their everyday lives and challenges, love, relationships, hope and dreams as they navigate life during the war.  The most inspiring character for me is the reality based Caroline Ferriday.  She works for the French consulate, sending money and supplies to those in France during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Ultimately she learns of the Rabbits, this courageous group of young women being held at the concentration camp who were victims of a tragic medical experiment…horrible surgeries performed on them unnecessarily, their legs mangled and infected on purpose by the camp doctors to see what medicines worked, how much pain could be tolerated and which infections could be treated.  Many women died of this horrendous torture, but approximately 75 strong willed victims survived.  After Hitler was defeated, Caroline sought them out and brought all of these women to NYC for medical treatment and a tour of the United States.

If you have the chance to see author Martha Hall Kelly speak, do it!  You will hear about her research process for this book and how she travelled to Poland and had the privilege of meeting and interviewing several of the surviving Rabbits.  She has also spent countless hours at Caroline Ferriday’s summer house in Connecticut where the women stayed when they came overseas.  Her information gathering and writing process along with her book, Lilac Girls, are fascinating, and lucky for us, a prequel is in the making!  My book group and I were thrilled to spend a little time with Martha, hearing the back story and asking some questions.  Lilac Girls is a book not to be missed!

Lilac Girls Book Group.jpg

 

As seen on Goodreads:

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades.
 
New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

14160478.jpg

About the Author:

Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut, New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and raised three splendid children, while researching and writing Lilac Girls, her first novel. She is now hard at work on the prequel, thrilled she doesn’t have to say good-bye to Caroline and Eliza. You’ll find more info about the incredible, true story behind Lilac Girls at her website: http://www.marthahallkelly.com and lots of great pics on her ever-changing Pinterest pages.