A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a story about love, loss, and survival during the Chechen wars. The characters' lives overlap and cross each other throughout the novel both in ways they recognize, and in ways they never knew.
At the age of eight, Havaa becomes an orphan. On the night her father was taken, Havaa escaped out the back door as the Feds were burning her house to the ground. Havaa knows much more than she lets on, mostly because her young brain has no way of verbally conveying the things she has seen. Havaa is also wanted by the Feds, but her neighbor, Akhmed, is determined to keep her safe. Without children of his own and a frail, invalid wife, Akhmed has always admired Havaa and been the doting uncle that would risk his life for hers.
Akhmed, a failed physician himself, turns to one of the only other doctors in the area. Sonja has been running (what is left of) the hospital by herself (with the help of one bitter nurse, who has been trying to retire for at least a decade), while searching for some word on her beloved missing sister, Natasha. Natasha has already disappeared and reappeared once, and Sonja clings to the hope that she'll return alive again. Sonja doesn't want a child in the way while she attends to the wounds caused by war, but Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa there for a couple days.
Another neighbor of Akhmed and Havaa, Khassan has been writing the history of Chechnya for decades, trying to get it just right - following whatever political power currently says is the correct history. Khassan and his adult son, Ramzan, live together but haven't spoken to each other in years. Ramzan is an informer, and everybody in the village knows he will turn anyone in to the Feds.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a beautifully written novel explaining a war that many of us know nothing about. The story of each character is told, explaining justifications on things they have done to survive life in a grueling war zone. The torture and pain faced by the characters in the novel is horrifying, yet it is so common in their lives that it doesn't shock them. Survival is the biggest issue to each character in the book, and the bonds they make are formed around their desire to endure the war. Even though all of the characters end up doing things they never would have done under ordinary circumstances, they all still embrace the idea that some day, life could return to a more peaceful state and things will make sense again.