When Anthony Marra was a college student studying in Russia, he traveled through the Chechnya region. That experience would inspire the 28-year-old Marra, a Whiting Writers’ award winner and current Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, to pen his debut, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which will receive a 60,000-copy first printing from Hogarth in May and was sold by Janet Silver at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. (The title, Marra explains, is from a medical dictionary definition for life. “Medically speaking, life is structured as the constellation of six vital phenomena; similarly, this novel is structured as the constellation of six point-of-view characters.”)
“For all the nonfiction I tracked down, I was unable to find any English-language novels set in contemporary Chechnya. I felt that the stories I’d read and heard, and later saw for myself when I traveled, were stories that had to be animated through fiction,” says the first-time author.
Lindsay Sagnette, the Hogarth senior editor who acquired the book, found the act of reading a journey of its own. “When I began Anthony’s novel, I read sentence after perfect sentence and traveled from my desk through the wardrobe, if you will, to a world of his creation. It was the middle of the night. Snow was falling. A house was on fire, and a scared man was about to make the bravest decision of his life in order to save a young girl. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena feels less like a book than a true place where these characters lived and loved. I will never forget my time there.”