literary food blog, for readers with good taste.

"A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" by Anthony Marra — book club discussion and menu

New year, new club! 

I've tried the book club thing before, but I realized it people can't always commit. That can be stressful, and stress is not something I want in any club of mine. It's not a homework club, after all. 

So here's the new model: Every month, I'll bring you discussion questions and menu ideas for books previously recommended here on this very blog. Drop in to share your thoughts or gather inspiration whenever it's convenient for you. Let's get started!

"A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" by Anthony Marra: #BookClub Discussion and Menu | www.paperplatesblog.com

(via Goodreads)

In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded. 

For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

Discussion questions 
(Spoiler alert!)

- How do shifts in time and perspective add to or take away from the plot?

- Which character was the most tragic?

- What role did age play in this novel? We saw characters in all stages of life — what made them alike or different?

- How much did you know about the sociopolitical context of Chechnya in the 1990s and 2000s prior to reading this book? How did that affect your understanding of it?

- What role did food play in this novel? Was it a blessing or a curse?

- Many of the novel's leading men are emasculated in various ways — physically, professionally. What did you make of that?

- What did Havaa's blue suitcase represent? 

- How did this novel define family? How does that compare to how you define family?

These questions should get you started, but feel free to add some of your own!


This menu is built around our original pairing for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which the featured beef manti dumplings you see below. I originally chose the manti because they're native to the region where Constellation is set, and because they're comforting. For a heartbreaking book, a comforting accompaniment is a must. The rest of the items coordinate well with the manti's earthy, hearty flavors and texture. The dolma offer a vegan option that's bright yet filling. The pomegranate lemonade spritzer can cleanse away the heaviness of the manti, and the halva popsicles are a sweet finish. Enjoy!

Vegan dolma via Divine Healthy Food

Vegan dolma via Divine Healthy Food

Pomegranate Lemonade Spritzers via Just Putzing

Pomegranate Lemonade Spritzers via Just Putzing

Halva popsicles via My Name is Yeh

Halva popsicles via My Name is Yeh

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"Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande & Spinach Mana’eesh

"Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande & Spinach Mana’eesh