There is just so much I loved about this book. Beautifully written, finely crafted, it is both heartbreaking and uplifting. The story unfolds, mostly, across a decade in Chechnya, pivoting around a handful of days toward the end of 2004. Told through a collage of characters whose stories come together at this particular place and time, we come to love them, all of them, in all of their complexity. Anthony Marra shows us our humanity in each of these conflicted characters and the choices that they make. In a country ravaged by war, few of these choices are simple or easy. His characters display incredible compassion. And startling cruelty. Though even the cruelty, we learn, originates from a place of deep compassion. His skill as a storyteller found me asking myself what I would do given these same choices. What could I do?
While the story pivots around this handful of days, Marra skillfully tugs us back in time to flesh out his characters. He also pulls some threads forward, years or decades, and shows us the beauty in choices and lives unfolding. These forward threads are often only brief scenes, sometimes just a few lines, but for me they are at the heart of what gives the story hope. Life finds a way, he reminds us. I was grateful for this, grateful to find hope in the midst of so much violence and inhumanity. It was only after I finished the book that I realized that the story really only occurs over those few days. The warp and weft of his telling made me feel as though I had been steeped in history.
This book is, ultimately, a love story. It is a love story for a country. It is a love story between parent and child, between siblings, between lovers, and honestly, a love story for life itself.
I listened to the audiobook – so well read – but I would consider picking up the book at some time in the future and rereading.