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

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2011158,418 (3.7)31
Member:MeisterPfriem
Title:Baba Yaga Laid an Egg
Authors:Dubravka Ugresic
Other authors:Celia Hawkesworth (Translator), Mark Thompson (Translator), Ellen Elias-Bursac (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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4.5/5

...they would finally stop bowing down to men with bloodshot eyes, men who are guilty of killing millions of people, and who still have not had enough. For they are the ones who leave a trail of human skulls behind them, yet people's torpid imaginations stick those skulls on the fence of a solitary old woman who lives on the edge of the forest.

This book is the same breed as [Mr. Fox], metafiction put through its paces for a far more exacting goal than that of navel gazing and the like. Here there is no pretense that fiction owes nothing to reality and as such is free to do what it likes. Instead, we have the triptych of author, story, and critic, with nary a needful implication of holiness between them. The world doesn't need another extension of the patriarchal metaphor that is most religions. The women this tale would never have gotten a happy, self-determining, human ending, were that not the case.

Increasingly subtle the book is not, but that of course is hard to pull off when the choice of an old woman as a character is unusual enough. Harder still to treat her with understanding, poor thing, for unless she has a bevy of grandchildren she is left to crazed abandonment, ending only upon ingestion by her many cats. Old men may go along insane and alone, it's true, but at least they have the benefit of uncannily keen eccentricity and a shotgun. When one has no quotas of physical appeal and/or fertility to fill, it's easy enough to grow old without being shamed into isolation.

Sitting like that under an array of sun specks, surrendered to sleep, she looked like an ancient slumbering goddess.

I've picked up pieces of the picture of misogyny indoctrinated through cultural beliefs the world over through [The Second Sex] and [The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories], but it's one thing for the phrase 'Baba Yaga' to bring to mind a comb, a towel, a house on chicken legs, and quite another to immerse oneself in the entire mythos of this menacing specter. Crone, witch, hater of women and killer of children, full of dastardly danger if one is not male and doesn't treat her with enough officious scorn. What matters here is not adherence to the canon, but what said adherence means in the long run for those born without a dick. Folklore and fairy tales it all may be, but fiction upon fiction births excuse upon excuse to forgo representations based on anything but poisonous stereotype. Grow up with promises woven through every tale, true and/or false, of brutal retribution should you stray from the path of innocent beauty and selfless huswifery, your only reward for such self-sacrifice being neglectful contempt, and see how far you get.

All in all, it is not hard to conclude from this quick survey that Baba Yaga straddles the globe: the 'baba genus'is international, and Baba Yaga's kinsfolk can be found in Asia, South America, and Africa; 'Baba Yaga's International' is making trouble here, there and everywhere, as it has always done.

Ježibaba, Baba Roga, Forest Mother, Mountain Mother, Mamapadurei, Baba Cloanta, Baba Coaja, Baba Harca, Sfinta Vineri, Vasorru baba, Ragana, Jendžibaba, wurlawy, Wjera, Zhaliznonosa baba, gamlemor, trollkjerring, kjerringa mot strommen, Syoyatar, Akka, Arie, Perchta, Frau Holle, ALabasti, Empusa, Lamia, Hecatete, Eos, Selea, Erida, Ino, Medusa, Graeae, Erinyes, Harpies, Stymphalides, Sphinx, Larvae, Strige, Mainas, Echidna, Morai, Parcae, Norns, crone, witch, spinster, manhater, bitch, whore, slut, shrew. All this, and for what? You tell me. ( )
4 vote Korrick | Jul 22, 2014 |
Tiptree winner 2010. Got up to page 64 - there was nothing that could be identified as science-fiction or fantasy, nothing to do with gender-related themes, and crucially, nothing remotely interesting. Threw it on my "charity shop" pile and moved on! ( )
  SChant | May 6, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (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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