Written by Narine Abgaryan
Illustrated by Elena Stanikova
Astrel, AST, Moscow, 2010, 317 pp.
Manyunya is a very funny story about two wonderful families who live in the small Armenian town of Berd. One is an Armenian family of mother, father, and three daughters, and another is a Jewish family of father, daughter, and grandmother (everyone call her simply Gran). Gran is the scariest and the funniest character in the book. She is the Ruler of the Universe; everyone–children and adults equally–are afraid of her, and, at the same time, they absolutely adore her.
From the very beginning, Manyunya, her granddaughter, warns her new best friend Nara that everything will be fine if only she will never argue with Gran and will never pick her nose. Gran is also the best cook in the world. All that she wants is to be sure that her granddaughter and her friends always eaten enough of her wonderful cooking. And her idea of enough is often way too much for someone else.
Manyunya (the affectionate diminution of the girl’s name, Maria) is a child who never stops looking for trouble. She means well but is always creating an awful turmoil all around. She falls in love with a guest of the neighbors, and she makes the life of this young man, who has no idea of her feelings a living hell. She almost kills a teacher whom she does not like just because she thinks that a gun is not loaded. But all somehow ends well. The two best friends, Nara and Manyunya, are constantly together. They are two curious little girls who never can pass by the opportunity to get into an adventure, whatever it may be–painting the wall with Nara’s mother best and expensive lipstick, or messing up Gran’s grandiose green walnut jam preparation.
The book talks about life in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. By that time, the Soviets authorities were not so frightening but were mostly ridiculous. It still was a time of shortage of all possible goods, when the simplest everyday things were still very difficult to buy, and one would need to stand in long lines for food and other necessities. The funniest pages of the book describe Gran’s shopping. A small town is a community where everyone knows everyone. Nobody can hide anything, and at the same time, everyone helps the neighbor in need. The book gives readers that warm feeling of knowing really good people. But never read this book when other people are around. It will be too difficult to stop reading and start explaining why you are laughing out loud.
Manyunya is the first book of the trilogy. Two other books are about the girls’ adventures in a summer camp, Manyunya’s plan to write a fantasy novel, and Gran’s magnificent birthday celebration. This book received the Manuscript of the Year Russian Literary Prize in 2010. Narine Abgaryan also wrote a picture book Semen Andreich, a Chronicle in Scribbles that received the Russian BABY-NOSE Prize in 2013, and two novels for adult readers, The Migrant, and People Who Are Always with Me. Besides reading this book with others in the trilogy or in a study of the author, Manyunya might be paired with the American novel, A Year Down Yonder (Richard Peck, 2002) in which the grandmother is eccentric though greatly loved.
Olga Bukhina, International Association for the Humanities, New York
WOW Review, Volume VII, Issue 2 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/vii-2/