The history of ethnic strife in Chechnya is long and confusing. Anthony Marra bypasses the facts and figures and takes us directly into the lives of ordinary people trying to make a meaningful existence amid the rubble and death and ongoing violence. Living in a state of constant trauma changes all the rules. Young and old, ethnic Russians and Chechen Muslims, the characters' lives intersect in such a way that they cannot hate each other with the intensity prescribed by their ancestors.With a complete absence of emotional manipulation, Marra takes us back and forth in the lives of the characters, moving along a timeline from 1994 to 2004. As they move in and out of periods of war, we see the events that led them to their current behaviors. Their choices begin to make more sense when we see how they have suffered, and the sins they have committed in the name of self-preservation. These are the sins for which they are now seeking absolution, whether from a higher power or from those they have wronged.I'm a picky reader, and my friends tell me I'm a hard grader when I rate books. I'm always skeptical when I hear raves about an up-and-coming author who's supposed to be the latest writing phenomenon. I always have to give them a chance, though, because once in awhile they turn out to be as talented as promised. Anthony Marra is one of those who deserves all the praise he's receiving. If you like serious literary fiction, this is a novel you won't want to miss.ADDENDUM: If you think you're too much of a history dolt to enjoy this book, don't let that stop you. A quick overview here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chechnya, with focus on the First Chechen War, Interwar Period, and Second Chechen War, will give you enough context to understand the impact on the characters, the economy, and the infrastructure of the country.