Tuesday marks the paperback release of my favorite novel of 2013: “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” by Washington native Anthony Marra. It’s a gorgeous book about a war-torn village in Chechnya, where a little girl named Havaa is being hunted by federalist thugs.
Marra’s publisher, Hogarth, sold almost 45,000 copies of the hardcover and e-book editions, and now it’s planning a first printing of 75,000 paperback copies.
As first novels go, 29-year-old Marra couldn’t have asked for a better reception. Aside from many laudatory reviews, “A Constellation” was a longlist finalist for the National Book Award, and it recently won the National Book Critics Circle’s “debut book” prize.
Marra also won the capital’s most sought-after vote of confidence:
“When I was home for Thanksgiving,” he said, “I stopped by Politics & Prose to sign a few copies of ‘Constellation.’ A couple days later, I learned that Barack Obama also stopped by, and left with one of them. Some of the exciting things that have happened for the book have been a little inside baseball to my relatives, but hearing that the president has bought your book, well, that’s something to tell your grandma.”
Chris Brand, Hogarth’s art director, is taking a slightly different approach with the new release. The hardcover edition showed a forest washed in pastels with that strange title written in a haunting scrawl. The paperback is almost entirely black and white. “The design feels more cinematic,” Brand says, “and it gave us a chance to be a little bolder. Featuring the suitcase was a way to add some color to the cover, and I like how it suggests a person and tells a little bit more of a story. You can imagine Havaa hiding back in the woods.”
Read it. You’ll want to imagine Havaa, too.