Round Rock New Neighbors is a social organization of women welcoming women in the Round Rock area since 1978. Both "new" and "old" neighbors are welcome. For more information: rrnewneighbors.org [Barnes & Noble requires that RRNN's book club be open to the public, so you do not need to be an RRNN member to attend book club, and both men and women are welcome and do attend. ]

Literary Events

Literary Events

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The Friends of the Georgetown Public Library’s Hill Country Authors Series events will be listed here.
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Round Rock Public Library Book Group meets monthly at 7:00-8:30 PM. Check the library website for more information, or ask Carla.
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

We Read About Chechnya As a Complex and War Torn Society

I liked the way Marla introduced A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra. She said the author painted a picture of what it was like to live in war-torn Chechnya. She said that ordinary people were forced to experience extraordinary situations, often as part of what theoretically should have been ordinary daily life. The characters in the stories faced physical dangers, possibilities for betrayal that could lead to death or extreme suffering, and moral decisions in addition to the daily pursuit of food and shelter and safety for themselves and their families.

In the book, the title of the book is listed as a Russian dictionary's definition of life. Thia is thought-provoking, as were many of the characters' deeds and descriptions. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Holds together but is made up of parts, scientific but also imaginative.

Marla led us into a discussion by asking questions but also by describing the book. At one point, she said that the characters were striving to find normalcy within the war-torn life that they were surrounded by and forced into. Dennis said that he liked the writing style of the author but found the war to be an unpleasant situation that he didn't like reading about. Carla said that she got involved in the book and wanted to continue reading to find out what would happen to the characters, but that she knew they would have bad and sad things happen to them.

Pam said that the characters would have had their own personalities whether or not there had been a war surrounding them. Thus, she said, Sonja would have been a weird person even without the war. Maybe she would have been a physician, but she would have been the same. Someone said that Akhmed might have been a painter instead of a reticent physician if it hadn't been for the war. But, Akhmed was somewhat of an artist anyhow and created portraits of those who had died. Ken said that in the story, the bizarre was considered normal. Marla added that the image the authors gave of the 8-year-old girl, Havaa, was almost that of a normal girl, but then when the reader got closer to the girl, she was shown to be excessively unkempt and dirty and wearing hand-me-downs; essentially because of the war.

Family relationships was a theme throughout the book. One example of relationship was fathers, from the fathers' points of view as well as from the children's. About Ramzan,  Marla asked the group to discuss whether we felt compassion for him because he had been in 2 wars. Pam noted that Achmed and Ramzan both had the same father but had very different lives and different experiences as sons. She said that Ramzan didn't know they were brothers and resented Akhmed. Carla felt that Ramzan wasn't right psychologically and that this might have been an implication that Ramzan was deeply hurt and deeply, but not on an outer level, aware of the comparison between the way his father treated him and treated Akhmed. Marla brought up how Havaa had a father who loved her and that the author might have been using her family life to express a normal healthy father/child relationship. Regardless of the health of that family, the war tore them apart, but Havaa's short time with her family might have given her the stamina and security and grounding to carry on as was told at the end of the story.

Another flawed familial relationship the author examined was the one between siblings. This was expressed by Ramzan and Akhmed, who lived as if they were not brothers but might have felt the relationship at some level; and Sonja and her sister Natasha, who grew up as opposites and kept their separate personalities but moved toward and away from closeness throughout their lives. Discussing Sonja and Natasha, Carla suggested that throughout Chechnya during the war, the story was about insiders who were outsiders.

This brought on some attempts by Book Club members to characterize the Chechen wars. Cindy T noted that she had recently read a book that had the fighting between Sicily and Tunisia as a theme. Sicily had conquered Tunisia, but the fighting continued on and on. This seems to be similar to the Chechen and Russian and Central Asian interactions. The history is complicated. Russia wanted to replace the central Asians with Russians, but the Central Asians wanted Hitler to conquer Russia (probably because the Central Asians couldn't). Carla thought the conflict was over oil, and that whoever controlled Chechnya would control the oil business and make the money. Frank chimed in to say that the Chechens were so poor and oppressed that for many years they were unable to develop the oil industry that the natural resources promised. Frank knew some of the history and told us that the wars in the area stemmed from World War I, when Great Britain was in charge of the map. The Arabic tribes were constantly at war and the Germans and the Russians formed a delicate balance with all these groups.

A complex and war-torn society, indeed!

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