Let’s eavesdrop on this description by the omniscient narrator of Russian Narine Abgaryan’s novel Three Apples Fell From the Sky because it perfectly captures its enticing prose as well as the old-fashioned lifestyle of its characters who are living in a tiny village called Maran nestled in the Armenian mountains:
“This story is about how exactly one year and one month ago, on a Friday just past noon, after the sun had rolled past its lofty zenith and begun sliding sedately toward the western edge of the valley, Anatolia Sevoyants had lain down to breathe her last, not knowing how many wonderful things awaited her, and there they were, they had come, those wonderful things, breathing easily and affectionately.”
In Maran’s mythical, fabulistic, timeless setting, life is simple, elemental, inextricably linked to the land and the elements. Gypsy fortune-tellers and dream-interpreters trade advice for jewellery. The villagers meet on Saturday morning to trade produce and rumours. Folklore, home remedies, and superstitions are shared and trusted. Potato poultices are applied for physical ailments tea leaves are brewed for damn near everything. Literacy is far from universal.
Back to the plot: When rust-coloured spots begin appearing in the panties of fifty-eight-old-year Anatolia Sevoyants, she assumes they are manifestations of a fatal blood disease. She accepts her death sentence. She’s had a good life tending to her garden and working in the library. She carefully masks her other symptoms (aches, weakness, dizziness, numbness in her extremities) from her well-meaning but nosey neighbour and prepares to die. She gets her affairs in order, lays out death clothes and money for her funeral expenses, and goes to bed without expecting to wake up the next morning. She wakes up the next morning; she wakes up the morning after that. She becomes slightly irritated: “If only I could hurry up and die.”
Non-spoiler alert: Anatolia doesn’t have a life-threatening condition.
The out-of-touch, nostalgic feeling of the novel’s village setting resembles a character itself. Maran has practically no contact with the outside world, although its library does possess volumes as modern as Faulkner. Its remoteness shields it from TV, radio, music, movies. After suffering a series of natural disasters of quasi-biblical magnitude (famine, drought, earthquake, and locusts), Maran is basically forgotten and left for dead. A war in the remote, outside world rages for eight years; soon only 23 families remain in the village.
Although the novel is generally devoid of monumental plot points, things do happen. Since she’s convinced that she is near death and can’t think of a simpler means of rejecting him, Anatolia accepts a wedding proposal from the pesky village smithy named Vasily. He courts her with a new scythe. Vano and Valinka Melikants’ daughter dies in childbirth. Even though the tiny premature baby fits in his grandfather’s palm, the boy manages to live. His survival is ascribed to the appearance of a white peacock and its mysterious feathers. After her husband dies, Valinka summons her grandson, his Russian wife, and their children back to the mountain and cajoles them to remain on it. Nobody expects them to stay in a village without schools or parks or hospitals.
An undercurrent of violence flows throughout the lives of these villagers. Women marry badly and are threatened by the fists of their frustrated husbands. The villagers remember the curses identified by gypsies and wait for their truths to be revealed. Anatolia’s attitude about the outcome of her life reflects the view of many Maranians: “She resigned herself to her fate by making do with the small pleasures in her life.”
Any Cop?: This novel meanders to its satisfying ending. Its quirky characters provide many small reading pleasures. The writing is often lyrical and humorous: an ideal palate cleanser from more difficult or challenging books or authors.