Saturday, July 18, 2020

Armenia: Three Apples Fell From the sky, by Narine Abgaryan

When I first started this project I had a really hard time finding a book to read from Armenia. And then when I finally found one, more kept popping up that I just couldn't resist. This is a new book recently received at our local library, and it looked interesting enough not to pass by, even though I had already read a couple of others.

The title comes from an Armenian saying "Three apples fell from heaven, one for the storyteller, one for the listener, and one for the eavesdropper". The story is set in the remote mountain village of Maran. Hard times have fallen on the village whose inhabitants are now all elderly. They have survived an earthquake which caused half of the village to tumble into an abyss, war, drought, and famine. And yet, there is something strange and rejuvenating in the air. An elderly widow, Anatolia, about to give up on life, instead is persuaded to marry the widowed blacksmith Vasily. And an unexpected romance blossoms, and with it something else..

Despite covering most of the twentieth century in Armenian history, the events in the outside world are only vaguely sketched. There are references to "the war" (which takes eight years, so I am not quite sure which war is referred to), "the world war" and "the massacre". There is also a family which fled south to avoid "the Bolsheviks". But mostly, life in the village continues in the old, traditional ways, with little reference to the outside world. The villagers eat in a traditional and self-sufficient manner. One of the residents had been sent yeast by her son who now lives in the outside world. She tries it but everyone agrees that the bread produced from this yeast is tasteless. A rather comical incident arises from her attempt to dispose of the yeast.

Despite all the hardship depicted, this is a gentle and ultimately joyful book, which was easy and enjoyable to read. "Three Apples Fell From the Sky" was translated from Russian by Lisa C Hayden with the help of an English Pen Award, and published by Oneworld Publications in 2020.

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