“From an early age I learned…that stories are how we understand one another, how we preserve the past, and how we make meaning from the chaos of our lives.”
New York Times bestselling author Anthony Marra’s remarkable fiction details the grim absurdity of war and the human capacity for kindness in extreme circumstances. With wit, compassion, and gravitas, his work, set in Russia and the Soviet Republics, chronicles the lives of ordinary people attempting to salvage what they have lost.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena opens in war-torn Chechnya, where a man and an eight-year-old girl seek refuge in a ramshackle hospital after the girl’s father is abducted by Russian soldiers. For Sonja, the hospital’s sole remaining surgeon, the arrival of these two strangers is an unwelcome surprise. But over the course of five days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. Writing in The Washington Post, Ron Charles describes A Constellation of Vital Phenomena as “a flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles… Here, in fresh, graceful prose, is a profound story that dares to be as tender as it is ghastly, a story about desperate lives in a remote land that will quickly seem impossibly close and important… I haven’t been so overwhelmed by a novel in years. At the risk of raising your expectations too high, I have to say you simply must read this book.”
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena received the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award in the US, the Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle in France, and was the first English-language novel to win the Athens Prize for Literature in Greece. It was also longlisted for the National Book Award and named to over twenty year-end lists.
Marra’s second book, The Tsar of Love and Techno, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. A collection of intricately connected stories, The Tsar of Love and Techno opens in 1937 Leningrad, in a hidden room at the end of a metro tunnel, where a censor is tasked with airbrushing out the faces of the politically disgraced from official photographs—beginning with his own brother. When he decides instead to insert small images of his brother into every photograph he censors, he sets into motion a series of events that reach across 20th-century Russia and into the present, tying together several generations of families.
Reviewing for The New York Times, Sarah Lyall described The Tsar of Love and Techno as “extraordinary… Each story is a gem in itself. But the book is greater than its parts, an almost unbearably moving exploration of the importance of love, the pull of family, the uses and misuses of history, and the need to reclaim the past by understanding who you really are and what really happened… He starts this miracle of a book by showing us how a system can erase the past, the truth, even its citizens. He ends by demonstrating, through his courageous, flawed, deeply human characters, how individual people can restore the things that have been taken away. And if you’ve been worrying that you’ve lost your faith in the emotionally transformative power of fiction—Mr. Marra will restore that, too.”
Anthony Marra was born in Washington, DC, and has lived and studied in Eastern Europe. He received his BA from the University of Southern California and his MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. He was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where he has also taught. His work has been honored with the National Magazine Award, the Whiting Award, the Jeanette Haien Ballard Writer’s Prize and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 2017, Marra was included in Granta’s decennial list of best young American novelists, and in 2018, he won the $50,000 Simpson Prize, which he will put toward finishing a new novel about exiles in 1940s Hollywood, slated for release in 2021. “This is my first novel set in America,” Marra said, “and though mid-century Los Angeles is new terrain, this novel is preoccupied with the same concerns as my previous books: political coercion, historical amnesia and falsified realities. At a time when these themes dominate American political life, this novel and the questions it raises feel all the more urgent to me.”