A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Antony Marra while beautifully written is certainly not a light read in my opinion.
I found myself reading this story very slowly as there is a lot to digest. The writing is beautiful and the story is interesting and very well researched.
Anthony Marra takes a subject and a place I for one knew very little about, war-ravaged Chechnya in 2004, more than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union. The story centres on a war ridden village that most people have deserted. The central characters lives are interconnected in unexpected ways that we learn more about as the we turn the pages. The reader is introduced to what life is like in an ethnic war zone of a mostly unknown place especially for me, so I was eager to read and learn something new.
This is certainly not a light read but having said that the story is told with a surprising and unexpected amount of humour. I did laugh out loud a couple of times in the novel s and the following was one such time. "I thought Ronald McDonald was president." Or maybe that Ronald McDonald told Gorbachev to tear down the wall ("You're thinking of Ronald Reagan," she tells him).
At other times I found myself flinching at some of the descriptions and atrocities of war. The book is not a history lesson about the Chechnya wars but rather a story about people who lived and coped through the ordeal.
I did Google quite a bit about Chechnya while reading this story as I like to have some facts in order to understand what I am reading and I especially like to have a map to hand.
I did find the story initially a challenge to follow. The chapters go back and forth between events and years. It took me a while to get a grasp on names, times and places.
Overall a very interesting and well told story. I would advise if reading the book to Google a small bit on Chechnya as I certainly felt it helped me while reading the story.