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Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugresic
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Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (edition 2009)

by Dubravka Ugresic, Ellen Elias-Bursac (Translator), Celia Hawkesworth (Translator), Mark Thompson (Translator)

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194None60,591 (3.73)30
Member:MeisterPfriem
Title:Baba Yaga Laid an Egg
Authors:Dubravka Ugresic
Other authors:Ellen Elias-Bursac (Translator), Celia Hawkesworth (Translator), Mark Thompson (Translator)
Info:Canongate
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:21st Century, literature: Slavic, fiction

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Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić

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This peculiar trio of tales—by turns tragedy and comedy—is about old age, and misogyny, and loneliness, and mothers and daughters, and young men. They are the Baba Yaga stories, not so much retold as decomposed into their elements and then reformed into new, modern stories.

It's easy to read the first two of the tales just on the surface, to see the first as a story of a daughter struggling with a mother who has Alzheimer's, to see the second as the story of three old women on a spa vacation, trying to coming to terms with their regrets and their pasts. If you've read any Slavic stories about Baba Yaga, you see the coincidences of the old women and spot the references to the familiar elements of those tales: the mortar and pestle, the single leg, the male adversaries, the giant breasts, love contained in an egg. And, yet, unless you are paying rather close attention, it doesn’t sink in fully until you read the third piece.

That one is couched as a primer on myth and analysis of the first two stories by one anagrammatic Dr. Aba Bagay, who practically bores you with detail about folklore. But, even before she finally (with an amused tone) tells you that she's an unreliable narrator whose analysis might be reading too much or too little, you've realized it for yourself. You've started to see connections that Dr. Bagay (quite deliberately, I believe) never mentions.

You realize that the characters, like Baba Yaga, aren't just themselves, they are also players in archetypical dramas about women as a whole…that Kukla, Beba and Pupa, despite being octogenarians, are also easily read as Maiden, Mother and Crone, standing simultaneously as figures of old women and of all women. You see that they, also like Baba Yaga, can suffer from the world and inflict suffering in return. From a different viewpoint, ordinary occurrences in their lives become more, summoning wealth or destruction from seeming thin air. They are, in a sense, witches.

The two stories become dramas about society's fear and revulsion toward old women. They become stories of both motherhood and mothers destroying their offspring, just as Baba Yaga eats children. They become stories of subservience to men, Baba Yaga unable to resist a handsome man who is forceful in telling her what to do. They also become stories of retribution against the same, Baba Yaga killing men who do not show her respect. In short, they become stories about sexism and ageism and feminism.

It's simply written as befits a folk tale. It's about old age but, like the best of those tales, it's never maudlin or sentimental about it, preferring to approach from Bette Davis' viewpoint, "Old age is no place for sissies."

It's about patriarchy—"let us not forget that all of these ugly, sexist notions…involving 'grandmas' were thought up by 'grandpas'. Who, naturally, reserved the more heroic parts for themselves."—but, also like the best of those tales, never lets us forget the other edge of that sword: Baba Yaga's hut was built from the skulls and bones of the men she slew so casually.

It's a book that becomes better as you finish it.

It won the Tiptree Award in 2010 and, while I can see that some might feel that this was a misjudgment, it makes sense to me. ( )
10 vote TadAD | Jan 26, 2013 |
A tale of old age and the mythical powers of women written with wit, spirit and laughter – and occasional anger – at the absurdities of life. However, I find the language not particularly attractive; I suspect that this may not be due to the translation. Die Sprache scheint mir nicht den Inhalt wiederzuspiegeln, wie auch der Inhalt nicht bereits in der Sprache eingebettet ist z.B. bei Herta Müller. (XI-12) ( )
  MeisterPfriem | Nov 18, 2012 |
I read this book because it won the Tiptree Award this year. It's a translation of um.. was it Croatian? Ukranian? One of those.I can't say I enjoyed it, or liked it particularly, but it was mind-expanding, and not a bad read, for most of it.It's odd, in that there's really 3 parts to it. The first is a woman talking about her aging mother. The second is presumably a story the first woman has written, about some women going to a spa. And then the last part is an analysis of the first two in relation to the Baba Yaga folklore. Which does start to get a bit dry! But that's like.. intentional.So it's weird. After having read most of Diana Comet, I wish that one had won. That's more my style and is extremely enjoyable. ( )
  Jellyn | Jul 23, 2012 |
Less successful than Deathless, if no less luminous, this volume won the Tiptree award, a choice which with I disagree. I see how the celebration of women and age intersects with the goal of the Tiptree, I don’t see how this work changes our perception of gender. And for what it’s worth – I am roughly the same age as the author and dealing with a mother much the same as she in the first part, a memoir of sorts – the author’s relationship with her mother as her mother ages . The second is the saga of three old Slavic women who have taken a spa vacation, and the third is a self-conscious, pseudo-scholarly explication of the themes of the first two parts.
I did find some things particularly fascinating – as a westerner seeing eastern Europe as a unified whole, it’s fascinating to recall that it’s actually scored with territories and states. Second is the effect of having lived through a war, as have the characters in the second part.
Like Deathless, the stories are based upon the Slavic folklore of Ugresic’s childhood, but seem far more cramped in scope. Overall, eminently readable and a beautiful work. ( )
  KarenIrelandPhillips | Aug 14, 2011 |
This is a collection of Baba Yaga myths and stories told as short stories and a letter. The first follows a writer on a voyage to Bulgaria, the land her mother is from. Her mother has recently died and she is trying to reconnect with her. The second tells of three old women taking a holiday together in a spa as we look back over some of their life choices. The final section is a letter summarising all the Baba Yaga myths and stories to an uninformed reader and it raises some very interesting questions at the end.

The book looks at growing older, femininity, the differences in the myths and stories and the unlocking of secrets long buried. I didn't know much about the myths beforehand, just the essentials that she is a witch who lives in a house with chicken legs. It was fascinating to read more and see her in a more updated setting.

This book can be read in one sitting or as three separate sections. I read it all in one go, but definitely plan on going back and reading it again (especially the final section with all the myth details). I got totally caught up in the stories and wish that all myths had such concise but incredibly detailed summaries. I love this whole series and can highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in myths and stories. It fits in really nicely with the others in the collection, it's diverse and spans many different cultures. Looking forward to continuing with more in the near future. ( )
1 vote Rhinoa | Jun 19, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
If the first section is rather gray, the second is drenched in Technicolor, and because I skipped ahead, Baba Yaga's leering face peered through it all, giving depth and weight to what otherwise might've been a too-kooky, too-cute tale insistently peppered with rhymes like "While life gets tangled in the human game, the tale hastens to reach its aim!"
 

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dubravka Ugrešićprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Elias-Bursać, EllenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hawkesworth, CeliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thompson, MarkTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Baba Yaga Laid an Egg takes a traditional myth and spins it afresh. The result is an extraordinary meditation on femininity, aging, identity, secrets and love." -- taken from jacket front flap.

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Canongate Books

Two editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1847670660, 1847673066

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