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Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire

Egg & Spoon

by Gregory Maguire

Other authors: Matt Roeser (Cover artist)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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‘’Your life story is really about how the hands of history caught you up, played with you, and you with them. History plays for keeps; individuals play for time.’’

Prepare for a journey in the mystical land of Russia in the era of the Tsars. A land of fairy tales and magical creatures. A land of mortifying antitheses, where wealth and poverty walk hand in hand. This is a journey through the vastness of a country unlike any other in the world, through the misty forests to the opulent courts of Saint Petersburg. Our guides are two unique girls and none other than Baba Yaga herself.

''That's all that poor people own; the truth.''

Elena is a peasant girl in Miersk. She decides to go to the capital and ask a favour from the Tsar. To return her brother to her and her grievously ill mother. One day, a locomotive arrives and Elena meets Ekaterina, the daughter of an aristocratic family. After a strange game of Fate, the girls find themselves in opposite sides as Elena is heading to St. Petersburg and Cat meets Baba Yaga. Noone can predict the end of this peculiar adventure as the girls need to fight their way through deceit, secrets, injustice, poor choices with the myths of their homeland as their source of wisdom.

''...all birds cast shadows on bright days. Except for one. The Firebird, bright soul of all the Russias, casts no shadow.''

Maguire weaves the story of the two girls with the myths of the Russian culture, one of the richest in the world. The focus is on the matryoshka doll and the Firebird, the symbol of light and life, the everlasting hope and wealth, the symbol of a mythical world that is so different from the bleak reality experienced by people like Elena. Baba Yaga tries to explain that the Firebird is so much more than a mythical figure carved on a fancy Fabergé egg. It is the soul and essence of the nation and ''the soul of Russia is sickly,'' as she says because she can see that soon the result of starvation, toil and oppression will lead to chaos, blood and another form of tyranny. The Firebird will not be able to fly anymore. The bullets of madmen and the wrath of people forced into a life of humiliation will destroy its wings.

''It is unseemly for a young woman to express opinions.''

What may be read as a fairytale hides much deeper themes and implications in its pages. A young woman should be educated and be paraded like an exotic bird in front of her wealthy suitors. God forbid if she has opinions. God forbid twice if she has the nerve to express them. In this sense, Ekaterina is as poor as Elena. Hardly interesting to her own parents, she is abandoned in a school that will prepare her to be a well-mannered lady of the upper society but her mind seeks so much more. Not fully able to escape the prejudices of her upbringing, she is a captive of her class as much as Elena. They both need to look at the world through the eyes of the Other in order to understand it and to understand their abilities as individuals.

Maguire's writing is as good as the characters he created. The novel is rich in beautiful descriptions of the impossibly wealthy Russian court along with images of the Russian nature. We witness the life in the palace in contrast to the life in the village and the commentary on social and historical issues from the magnificent character of Baba Yaga, the jewel and the driving force of the novel. Maguire has the chance to include interesting anachronisms though Baba Yaga and the narration becomes much more exciting. You never know the aces and the quotes this lovely old lady has up her sleeve. Through humor, Baba Yaga (and Maguire) focuses on the saddest of observations which become even more solemn and poignant. If the reader is well aware of the history of the county, the suffering described strikes you immediately. Maguire avoids any stereotypes or propaganda. He writes in an honest, kind, objective manner, fully respecting the cultural heritage of Russia.

You know me, I don't place age labels on the books I read. Egg and Spoon is a marvelous book whether you are 15, 25, 45 or 105. A good book means exactly that, a book that will entertain you and carry you away no matter your age and this novel will appeal to those of us who know a lot about Russian myths and history and to the ones who would like to get a taste of one of the richest traditions of our world.

''In the black waters of the Neva River, she could still see the flotilla of liberated matryoshka dolls. Among them, paying little mind, paddled the severe vessel of Dumb Doma, carrying Miss Yaga into some private Russia, a Russia of secret coordinates, Away from those distresses.''

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
From the bestselling author of "Wicked" comes an enchanting new tale of mistaken identity, unlikely friendships, adventure, and magic set in 1905 czarist Russia. When the private train of Ekaterina Ivanovna de Robichaux is stranded in a peasant village she meets Elena Rudina, a girl who has lost her father, cares for her very sick mother, and longs to find her brothers who have been carried off into service. When an accident forces them to switch places they must both find a way to survive. Elena is carried off to St. Petersburg where she is to be offered up as a potential bride for the tsar"s godson and Ekaterina is stranded in a village of starving peasants who may or may not be dangerous. Their individual journeys will converge and lead them into a magical world and an adventure far beyond anything they could have imagined. Before they are through they will encounter the infamous witch Baba Yaga and struggle to discover if the legendary Firebird and ice dragon Zmey-Azdaja from their childhood stories are also real. Can mere children discover how to restore the magical balance of the land and find a way to cure the suffering of the Russian people?

Bettina P. / Marathon County Public Library
Find this book in our library catalog.

( )
  mcpl.wausau | Sep 25, 2017 |
Not a lot of action, beautiful language but hard to get in to. ( )
  michelleannlib | Jul 25, 2017 |
Set in the last years of the Russian monarchy, Egg and Spoon is a fanciful mix of history, folklore, philosophy, childhood fantasy, silliness, and very clever writing.
In a rural village, peasant Elena cares for her sick mother, scouring the desolate countryside for food, while mourning the loss of her dead father and her two brothers who have been pressed into service. Cat (born Ekaterina), a wealthy Russian girl leaves her London boarding school to go to St. Petersburg where she will meet (and possibly catch the eye of ) the godson of the Tsar. Cat's train must wait for repairs near Elena's village, and the two girls meet. When Cat shows Elena a Faberge egg intended as a gift for the Tsar, an accident happens that causes the girls to trade places, setting them on a string of unlikely adventures and eventually on a quest to save the firebird, Russia and the entire world. The story includes a vast array of incredible characters including (but not limited to) Baba Yaga, the witch from Russian folktale; Zmey-Azdaja, the ice dragon; Dumb Doma, a house with legs; Anton, the tsar's godson; a magical cat named Mewster; a collection of oversized matryoshka dolls; and our insightful narrator, an imprisoned monk who, like Scheherazade, tells this story in parts, in the hope of saving his life.
By turns ridiculously silly and deeply profound, Egg and Spoon is an utter delight. Elena and Cat perform magnificently, both as examples of social class and as individual personalities. The two wend their ways through a magical, bizarre, and funny Russian wonderland. In the end, Maguire drops a serious message in a light-hearted manner: saving the world is something everyone can do, and it isn't as hard as it might seem. Highly Recommended. ( )
  elizabethcfelt | May 15, 2017 |
I felt that this children's/young adult novel was a mixture of a moralistic fairy tale and a tsarist Russian version of The Prince and the Pauper. I was bothered early on by references to hummingbirds (which are native only in North & South America) and then the witch Baba Yaga made many anachronistic comments... These comments didn't really add to the story for me (in fact, they detracted from it) though I suppose the idea was that it would give younger readers something familiar to which they could relate (but in that case they were often poorly chosen - I caught Baba Yaga's riff on Bette Davis's famous quote from the movie All About Eve "Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy night" but how many 10-15 year-olds would?). ( )
  leslie.98 | Mar 14, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gregory Maguireprimary authorall editionscalculated
Roeser, MattCover artistsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Page, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sukjaroensuk, NuttakitDamask patternsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Society . . . has taken upon itself the general arrangement of the whole system of spoons.

-- Charles Dickens, Bleak House
Tell Polly she shall have half my egg.

-- Jane Gardam, "The Tribute"
"The eggs -- the eggs are teaching the hen," the count said through happy tears . . .

-- Leo Tolstoi, War and Peace, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (ending epigraph)
Maureen Casey
Brian O'Shaughnessy
In memory and honor of Maurice Sendak (ending dedication)
First words
The heels of military boots, striking marble floors, made a sound like thrown stones.
"That's all that most of us who are not Tsars or witches can manage to do," added Monsieur de'Amboise. "Take care of the one at hand. Here's your scarf."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father has been dead for years. One of her brothers has been conscripted into the Tsar's army, the other taken as a servant in the house of the local landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food.

But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying untold wealth, a cornucopia of food, and a noble family on their way to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg -- a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena's age.

When the two girls' lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and -- in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured -- a wise-cracking Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, in her ambulatory house perched on chicken legs.

[From the jacket]
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In 1905 czarist Russia, an impoverished country girl Elena and the aristocratic Ekatrina meet and set in motion an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and the witch Baba Yaga.

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