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Three Apples Fell from the Sky (2015)

by Narine Abgaryan

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And three apples fell from heaven:
One for the storyteller,
One for the listener,
And one for the eavesdropper

This old Armenian saying opens Three Apples Fell from the Sky. Originally published in Russian in 2015, this novel by Moscow-based Narine Abgaryan is now being issued by Oneworld Publications in a flowing and idiomatic English translation by Lisa C. Hayden. And what a delightful book it turns out to be.

The novel is set in Maran, a small, isolated village in the Armenian mountains, where time seems to have stood still. Indeed, the temporal setting of the novel remains vague. Maran seems untouched by modern technology and one gets the impression that the story could be happening over a hundred years ago. But there are hints (especially when the city is mentioned) that the setting is much more recent. It all enhances the feeling that the narrative stands out of time. Several tragedies across the decades – war, famine, pestilence, earthquakes and landslides – have threatened to wipe out Maran, but the tightly-knit community clings on to life, even though its few inhabitants have grown old and infirm.

The novel follows a tripartite structure inspired by the opening proverb. Part I, titled “For the One Who Saw”, focusses on the librarian Anatolia. Although she now in her late fifties, Anatolia is one of the youngest inhabitants of Maran. She is frail and in poor health, resigned to the fact that death has reached her, just as it has taken away her abusive husband and close relatives. But the other villagers, who treat her with almost parental affection, will have none of this. They play matchmakers and, somewhat unexpectedly, set her up with the widowed blacksmith Vasily. The first part of the novel also introduces us to a rich supporting cast of colourful characters who reappear in later sections.

Part II is titled For the One Who Told the Story and its protagonists are Vano, his wife Valinka and their orphaned grandson Tigran. Tigran is the only Maran infant to survive the epochal famine, and he has a solitary upbringing with his doting grandparents. His only companion is a strange white peacock which appeared roughly around the time when Vano and Valinka took Tigran into their care. This section of the novel follows Tigran’s journey into adulthood until his marriage and the birth of his son.

Part III, For the One who Listened, combines the two threads of the story, leading to an unexpected and heart-warming conclusion.

This is a magical novel. It manages to be life-affirming without descending into cheap sentimentality. Tragedy and death stalk its pages, and are never trivialised and understated, yet there is always an underlying seam of humour and hope.

Abgaryan achieves this challenging balance in part through the beauty of the novel’s prose, which mimics the oral storytelling of myths and legends. The novel is, in fact, imbued with a particular brand of magical realism which I particularly associate with Russian and Eastern European authors – the likes of Bulgakov, Remizov, Hamid Ismailov. At times it even reminded me of Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, despite the very different context. It is a style which is on the one hand earthy and realistic, delighting in minute descriptions of everyday village life, and on the other hand marked by supernatural elements drawn from fables and biblical/religious imagery. Ghosts which haunt the twilight hours; dreams and premonitions; miraculous events… these appear in the novel as matter-of-factly as the delicious dishes prepared by the old villagers.

This novel was a prize-winner in Russia and the English translation will hopefully earn it the new fans it deserves.

For the full review accompanied by a playlist of Armenian music, head to: https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2020/06/three-apples-fell-from-the-sky-by-nar...

4.5* ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Jan 1, 2022 |
DNF at 11% of the audiobook. The book just didn't seem to be going anywhere...
  RandyRasa | Dec 31, 2020 |
What a quiet and strange book. I'm not entirely certain what I think about it. I'm definitely glad I read it, but I couldn't begin to tell you what it's about without somehow trivializing it. I experienced this novel as an immersion into the life of the small, remote Armenian village of Maran. I have a sense that I've come to know this hamlet and its inhabitants intimately, as though we and our families had been neighbors for decades. I leave it with a sense of nostalgic hopefulness.

I enjoyed it. It was beautifully written. I don't think it will stick with me though. Furthermore I must add that my pleasure was diminished by the stereotypical, albeit brief, depiction of the Romani in the book.

CONTENT WARNING: Contains brief, non-graphic depictions of marital rape and intimate partner abuse. ( )
  Zoes_Human | Sep 10, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Narine Abgaryanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hayden, Lisa C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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В пятницу, сразу после полудня, когда солнце, перевалившись через высокий зенит, чинно покатилось к западному краю долины, Севоянц Анатолия легла помирать.
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