Anthony Marra’s ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ comes to paperback

(Courtesy of Hogarth)
New paperback edition will be released on Feb. 4. (Courtesy of Hogarth)

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.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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