Here are my discussion questions on A Constellation of Vital Phenomena:
I would encourage any group to take some time first to iron out any questions on plot and timeline as well as historical background. Don’t spend too much time on the history, but as it is so interwoven in the story, it’s good to refresh basic knowledge.
OCD-like visions full of specific numbers abound. What happens when you read all those numbers on the future and past of seemingly random objects and characters? Is there any pattern that you could discern? What did having the futures and pasts of practically every character, major and minor, do for the story?
Could you see any difference (in the story, not in the history) between the politics for the two armies in the novel? Does politics play any role for these characters?
Who changes the most in the novel and who changes the least? Who would be the protagonist of the novel? Did you feel like the novel was more about Akhmed or Sonja? Who did you identify the most with? Is Ramzan the antagonist? Does his own story later in the book change your perception of him?
How do people caught up in this war feel about death? When death is so common, does that change how people act? How does not having a dead loved one’s body change how people experience grief?
Landfill is called that because the place was intended to be a landfill. Could we take the name as a symbol of anything about torture and victims of war?
What’s the role of fear during times of war? How do both the armies use fear?
What counts for intimacy in this book? How to characters become friends or lovers with so much suspicion and fear? How does war affect relationships?
Many character grapple with regret. What characters are most affected by regret? How do they handle the regret? Does regret change anything for the characters or does regret just simply add tragedy to their story?
What places in the text did you mark as funny or witty? What role does wit play for these characters? Is there any laugh-out-loud humor in the book or just witty banter and observations?
Sonja sees moths fluttering in her peripheral vision due to exhaustion. And then, towards the end of the book, when considering going back, there’s this line on page 367: “But no life is a line, and hers was an uneven orbit around a dark star, a moth circling a dead bulb, searching for the light it once held.” Why are moths connected to Sonja? What do they say about her?
Religion is everywhere in the book, yet the characters don’t seem particularly religious. Is this just a matter of nature, i.e. would the characters be non-religious normally, or is it a function of the war? Would you expect the constant threat of death to make someone more or less religious? Does the City Park Prophet at the park (pg. 191) or the iman in Pit B (pg. 257) say anything about the role of religion in war times? Does Sonja’s thought on pg. 318 that “God, like everything kind and good, lived in London,” mean that religion was a foreign concept for her or that God just didn’t exist for her because she didn’t live in a peaceful place like London?
The title comes from the anatomy book Natasha ends up reading. Why does the anatomy book use the word “constellation”? What does anatomy have to do with the story, if anything? What about this line appealed so much to Natasha?