|Three Apples Fell From the Sky / Narine Abgaryan|
trans. from the Russian by Lisa C. Hayden
London: Oneworld, 2020, c2015.
The title comes from the Armenian folk saying "And three apples fell from heaven: One for the storyteller, One for the listener, And one for the eavesdropper." This is also reflected in the three part structure, and it works wonderfully.
The village of Maran is isolated, up a winding road that is difficult to navigate. The village has slowly dwindled over the years until it's now a group of elderly residents staying put. But when two of them find a second romance, the spark of unexpected romance lights up the village with unexpected joy.
The story is told in long detours of memory, giving the backstory of many of the main characters and families. There's a feel of folktale, as in the appearance of a white peacock that lives on the porch of one couple and is mysteriously the guardian of their grandson. Or the appearance of deceased members of the village passing on messages, or the young brother of one of the main characters who could foresee disasters.
But even through war, famine, natural disasters and the slow decline of the village, there is a beautiful sense of individuals and community. There is an overarching peace to the story, and a very satisfying conclusion with notes of hope and joy.
Anatolia Sevoyants is 58 when the story opens, and convinced she has a fatal illness she prepares herself to die. But she doesn't die, instead she promises to marry the village smith, just so she can get him out of her house so she can die in peace -- but finds herself married instead of dead.
From this startling beginning, her story winds backward into her family history and into the families and lives of the village of Maran. And the finale of the book also focuses on Anatolia and her new husband Vasily's miraculous marriage and its results.
I really liked Anatolia's story a lot; suddenly in the middle of the story she becomes the village librarian, as someone who can read. This was a surprise and a delightful element too; she decorates the little used library until it has a "coziness and lightness...reminiscent of a reading room in a well-tended conservatory". And she reads and reads.
The characters in this book are just wonderful, realistic and individual. The relationships are so finely explored, the setting is brought to such realism that I feel like I could find my way around Maran if I happened to be there, the structure of the book is so finely balanced, and the writing is full of fresh imagery and a sense that someone is really just telling you a story. I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a read that will leave you feeling better than when you started.