And three apples fell from heaven:
One for the storyteller,
One for the listener,
And one for the eavesdropper
Narine Abgaryan’s novel Three Apples Fell From the Sky begins with this age-old Armenian proverb, each line of which becomes the title for the three sections of this reflective book about life in a remote Armenian village.
Located along the slopes of Mount Manish-kar, the tiny village of Maran is connected only by “an ancient telegraph wire and a perilous mountain road that even goats struggle to navigate.” Its slowly dwindling, ageing population lost to time, lives in an insular world with only memories to look forward to:
None of the Maranians entertained hope that life would ever change for the better. The village was meekly living out its last years as if condemned…
Maran is ancient, even more ancient than its residents, a place where time appears to have stood still. The villagers use telegrams for communication, rely on a single local postman for letters, and have only one means of transport, a “squeaky wooden cart harnessed to a donkey” which was driven “to the valley twice a week for goods.”
The villagers are a practical, grounded lot who have had their share of suffering and losses caused by illness and natural occurrences like earthquakes, landslides, wars, and famine. By turns quirky, cantankerous, and affectionate—“a rational superstitious people who nevertheless believed in dreams and signs”—the people of Maran form a tightly-knit community and support each other through the vagaries of life: “misfortunes, hurts, illnesses, and rare, but very long-awaited joys.”
Until an unexpected, miraculous event erases the despair that hangs heavy in the Maranians’ lives.
Three Apples Fell From the Sky is a poignant, bittersweet, fable-like story translated into English five years after reaching bestseller status in Russia. In 2016, only a year after the translation being published, it won the prestigious Yasnaya Polyana award, a prize associated with the literary traditions of Leo Tolstoy.
At heart, Three Apples Fell From the Sky is a deep exploration of ageing. “The thing that bothers me is how young people are leaving their elders behind,” Abgaryan told The Guardian. Abgaryan uses Maran’s geography to act as a symbolic, physical representation of what its people feel: she has the village cling to the mountain’s “shoulder like a burdensome weight, pointless and forgotten by everyone.”
The villagers find fulfillment of a deep-seated need for certainty—the lingering effect of numerous calamities that have taken them by surprise—with an undying belief in superstitions, folklore, and prophecies.
On a few occasions, gypsies came from the valley… People listened to the gypsies gratefully… hoping against hope that the gypsies were telling the truth…
Abgaryan portrays this timelessness of the people,
A grapevine clung to a heavy wooden beam, its thin tendrils stretching upward toward the slate roof. The pie, with its golden brown cheese crust, was cooling in the kitchen and a lone cricket who had confused evening with night was broadcasting a doleful song in the garden…”
and their land with beautiful, vivid imagery.
February was cunning, though, magically shaking bits of grainy snow out of its sleeves…
The strongest message that shines through this finely translated novel is that resignation need not lead to cynicism. Just like the villagers “devoutly believed” in the indestructibility of the rocky pinnacle that sheltered them from the heavy, snowmelt-induced mudslide every year, they also “listened and believed in what is good.”