In this inspiring story, Andreï Makine looks back on a childhood friendship which changed his life. Set in 1970s Siberia, in the declining years of the Soviet Empire, My Armenian Friend offers a poignant evocation of ordinary lives as well as a window into Makine's own evolution as a writer.
In an orphan school, a young Russian boy befriends Vardan, an Armenian child who, because of his mature and sensitive nature, is tormented by schoolyard bullies. When the Russian boy meets Vardan's Armenian family, he falls under their spell. In his eyes, their home is a kingdom transported from afar, which is adorned, aromatic and beautiful despite how little the family possesses. Their neighbourhood is in a place of exile but is one of community, made up of former prisoners, exhausted adventurers and others who have been uprooted from their homes.
As he grows closer to Vardan, the Russian boy learns to recognise a people forced indefinitely to live on the margins, but who, despite persecution, hold on to their culture and cherish the memories they have of their homeland and its history. Even in a brutally inhospitable Siberia, they recreate a transformative "kingdom of Armenia".
Translated by Geoffrey Strachan