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Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugresic

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (edition 2009)

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

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2381448,487 (3.82)39
Title:Baba Yaga Laid an Egg
Authors:Dubravka Ugresic
Other authors:Ellen Elias-Bursac (Translator), Celia Hawkesworth (Translator), Mark Thompson (Translator)
Collections:Your library
Tags:21st Century, literature: Slavic, fiction

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Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić


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In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is an ambiguous figure with a long hook nose, who flies around in a mortar, wielding a pestle or broom, and lives deep in a hut in the forest. She can be helpful or baneful to those who seek her out.

Ugrešić's book is divided into three
sections. In the first, a writer travels from Zagreb to Varna, Bulgaria, acting as a surrogate for her mother, who is dying, to seek out relatives and bring back news and impressions of her childhood home.

The second section, by far the most entertaining, tells the story of three friends who travel to the Grand Hotel. Their encounters and experiences climax with the necessity to transport a dead body and huge casino winnings back to Zagreb. Ugrešić pushes each episode with an epilog along the lines of "What about us? We carry on. While humans long for fame and glory, the tale just wants to complete the story."

The third section is subtitled "Baba Yaga for Beginners by Dr. Aba Bagay" and contains all you ever wanted to know about Baba Yaga.

In essence, this a book about facing old age and death -- and it does it brilliantly. ( )
  janeajones | Feb 5, 2017 |
I love Baba Yaga, the old fairy tale witch who lives in a house with chicken legs and threatens to eat the heroine or hero if they don't complete certain tasks. So, when I saw this book I knew I had to read it.

Although, it turned out to be nothing at all like I expected, with the fairy tale and fantastic aspects nearly nonexistent, providing what at first seems a mundane picture of women's lives. The introduction, "At First You Don't See Them...", is the eeriest part of the book in the way it describes the old women around us everyday, invisible and ready to latch on to us like flimsy leeches at any moment.

In Part I, the narrator is a woman describing how she has turned into a caretaker for her mother, who is clinging to her home and demanding acknowledgement of her existence in whatever blunt way she can.

In Part II, the POV and tone shifts. Here an omniscient narrator reveals the mother, Pupa, on a trip with two other elderly friends to a Grand Hotel with a wellness center. Why they have come is not clear, but they meet many quirky characters along the way. Though anchored in some semblance of reality, this section has a fairy tale tone, with the narrator interjecting rhymes at the end of each section, each variants of the following: "What about us? We carry on. While the meaning of life may slip from our hold, the purpose of a tale is to be told!"

The third and final Part gets meta. It is written in the form of an introduction to Baba Yaga folklore an an analysis of the stories that appear in Part I and Part II of the novel. It's very strange reading these, since the academic writing them, Aba, is a young woman who appears in Part I, having met both the mother Pupa and the daughter/narrator. This section can drag a bit with the amount of detail it goes into, but the information on folklore and tales is fascinating (to me at least) and provides some insight into the symbolism of the first two parts, allowing me to think about them from an entirely new perspective.

Though reading Baba Yaga Laid an Egg was a slightly strange experience, I enjoyed it overall. It has me wanting to go out and read oodles of folktales now and has inspired me to write some reinterpretations of my own. ( )
1 vote andreablythe | May 1, 2015 |
This is a novel in three parts. The first part features a narrator's concerns about dementia in her aging mother, and traveling to her mother's childhood home in Bulgaria with a young folklore scholar. The second part details the comedy of errors in a journey of three elderly women to a spa resort. The final part is a satirical analysis of the Baba Yaga myth expressed in the first two parts written in the persona of the Dr. Aba Bagay (note the anagram), the young folklorist from part 1. Themes of the novel deal with aging, motherhood, and the Balkan past. It is often funny, but then punctured by moments of stunning tragedy. And one learns an awful lot about Baba Yaga, the legend of Slavic folklore who manifests as an old, evil woman living in a hut on chicken legs.

Favorite Passages:
"It was all too much, too much even for a very bad novel, though Kukla. But, then again, things happened, and, besides, life had never claimed to have refined taste." p. 210 ( )
  Othemts | Oct 9, 2014 |

...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 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (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 editionscalculated
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

2 editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1847670660, 1847673066

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