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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

Dubravka Ugrešić

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Title: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg
Author: Dubravka Ugrešić
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 327 pages
Original in: Croatian
Availability: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg - US
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg - UK
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg - Canada
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg - India
Baba Jaga legt ein Ei - Deutschland
  • Croatian title: Baba Jaga je snijela jaje
  • Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursác, Celia Hawkesworth, and Mark Thompson

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealingly told, interesting presentation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 2-3/2010 Mary Gaitskill
FAZ . 27/11/2008 Ilma Rakusa
The Independent . 3/7/2009 Stevie Davies
London Rev. of Books A 27/8/2009 Marina Warner
NZZ . 26/2/2009 Judith Leister
New Statesman . 14/5/2009 Alyssa McDonald
The Times . 23/5/2009 Melissa Katsoulis
TLS . 26/6/2009 Naomi Price

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ugrešić is also affecting and eloquent, in part because within her quirky, aggressively sweet plot she achieves moments of profundity and evokes the stoicism innate in such moments: These hags are also gallant women who have survived wars, displacement, death, estrangement from their families, and political brutality on an epic scale (.....) I'm not even sure that in the context of Baba Yaga Laid an Egg Ugrešić's lapses in literary taste are lapses at all." - Mary Gaitskill, Bookforum

  • "Auch will sie dem Rezensenten die Arbeit abnehmen: Den Prosatext "vor dem Raster der Baba Jage zu lesen und umgekehrt ... ist ein erfrischendes literarisches Erlebnis". In Wahrheit ist es zwiespältig und führt dazu, dass der Leser plötzlich überall mehr oder minder nette alte Damen sieht." - Ilma Rakusa, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Baya Yaga Laid an Egg ( translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac, Celia Hawkesworth and Mark Thompson) is a mirthlessly witty divertimento on female old age. Ugrešic's meta-narrative sings with intelligence; its cryptic weirdness challenges the reader. Set in the splintered aftermath of the break-up of Yugoslavia, its persons inhabit a borderline between tragedy and farce." - Stevie Davies, The Independent

  • "Baba Yaga Laid an Egg is the latest, most inventive and most substantial volume in Canongateís series of revisioned myths." - Marina Warner, London Review of Books

  • "Ein raffiniertes literarisches Tränklein hat Ugrešić, die durch ihre scharfsinnigen Bücher über den Zerfall Jugoslawiens und ihre Kritik an der westlichen Konsumkultur bekannt geworden ist, hier gebraut. Dreierlei Kräuter hat sie dafür gepflückt und in den brodelnden Kessel ihrer Geschichte geworfen: autobiografisch grundierte Prosa, groteske Erzählung und kommentierenden Essay." - Judith Leister, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Itís a shame that Ugresic resorts to such a hackneyed, unnecessary trick -- the message that old crones are the product of "long-lived, labyrinthine, fertile, profoundly misogynistic but also cathartic work of the imagination" is expressed with humour, anger and eloquence in the first two sections." - Alyssa McDonald, New Statesman

  • "For Canongateís Myths series, the much-translated and multi-prize-winning novelist and essayist Dubravka Ugresic has crafted a three-part reading of this hideously compelling figure that illuminates and obscures its subject in equal measure. (...) Dugrasicís retelling may be blisteringly postmodern in its execution but at its heart is a human warmth and even a silliness that infuses it with the sweet magic of storytelling." - Melissa Katsoulis, The Times

  • "We are as unprepared for the last part of this novel as we are for any of its earlier transitions." - Naomi Price, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Dubravka Ugrešić's Baba Yaga Laid an Egg is a sort of three-in-one work, offering -- very loosely interpreted -- three takes and variations on the Baba Yaga-myth. Each of the three sections even has a different translator; as they truly are distinct parts this does not matter quite as much as it might in a more unified work.
       This is a book of: "Sweet little old ladies", as they are described in the preface -- a description that comes with warnings, to resist the harmless-looking old crones:

Because if you relent, give in, exchange a few more words, you will be in their thrall. You will slide into a world that you had no intention of entering, because your time has not yet come, you hour, for God's sake, has not come.
       The first section is a relatively straightforward and domestic tale, much of it a writer describing her old mother's life in Zagreb. It's an unexceptional tale of a woman now grown old, set in her ways and in a slow, final decline:
     For the last thirty years, since my father died, she has withdrawn into her home. She was left standing there, caught off guard by the fact that he was gone, at a loss for what to do with herself. Time passed, and she continued to stand there, like a forgotten traffic warden, chatting with neigbours, while with us, her children, and later, her grandchildren, she complained about the monotony of her life.
       A Bulgarian scholar named Aba had contacted the author, and the narrator had put her in touch with her mother and the two seemed to have hit it off. Eventually, the narrator has an opportunity to participate in a literary gathering -- 'Gold Pen of the Balkans' -- in Bulgaria, and Aba tags along with her -- which doesn't work out quite as well. Aba is a folklorist, and the narrator is no great fan:
If there was something I could not abide, it was folklore and the people who studied folklore. Folklorists were inane, they were academic infants.
       Indeed, the narrator has little patience for the frivolous. She tries to confront reality head-on, trying to reason with her mother and to proceed rationally; but it is Aba and her annoying ways that her mother connects with much more readily.
       The second section of the novel again features aged protagonists, old women who have come to a resort in the Czech Republic. One is spectacularly old:
It would have been hard to describe the old lady as a human being; she was the remains of a human being, a piece of humanoid crackling.
       There is an obsession with defeating aging here, but death does catch up with several of the characters. The spa- and casino-experiences make for quite a few humorous scenes, and whereas there was little that obviously connected with the Baba Yaga myth in the first section, the second is replete with references to it. From a wise-beyond-her-years toddler in a boot to a very creative solution to finding a coffin for a body that won't fit in a regular one the section is full of clever and funny allusions, spinning out a far more complex and often almost slapstick scenario.
       The final scene sees the return of folklorist Aba, her name now revealed in its full anagrammatic form -- Aba Bagay. This last section is in the form of a letter and report by Dr. Bagay, now a scholar of Slavic Folklore Studies in Finland, presenting a detailed explanation of the Baba Yaga myth (yes, everything you always wanted to know, and more), along with commentary on the preceding two sections, which have been submitted to her.
       Dr. Bagay is, to some extent, sympathetic to the author:
     Here, then, is how things stand. First, your author is a writer, and any interpretation in literature is 'legitimate'. There are no better and worse literary interpretations, there are only good and bad books.
       She also notes, more generally (and in obvious commentary on the whole (very international) The Myths-endeavor):
Myths travel; in travelling, they retell and 'translate' themselves. They never reach their destination, they are locked forever in a transitional-translational state. there is usually no single, clear-cut mythic story: there are only numerous variants. It is like that with the story of Baba Yaga.
       Indeed, Ugrešić's is a work of variants, leading up to this scholarly round-up of all the many possibilities and interpretations. Simply put, by Dr. Bagay (even before or without the two versions she has been called to comment on):
Baba Yaga is a text that is read, studied, told, adapted, interpreted and reinterpreted differently at different times.
       So Ugrešić offers a good deal in Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, covering all the bases, as it were. From the almost entirely oblique first section to the explicit and (pseudo-)scholarly last one, she presents a myth from every angle (and cuts it apart and pieces it together in a variety of ways, too). They're all good, too, even as the feel and approach of each section is different, from the rather melancholy but most human first section to the much more broadly comical second to the digressive essayistic final one .
       Both simply for the stories, as well as its examination of myth-making and reading, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg is a fine addition to this interesting project -- and worthwhile on its own as well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 May 2009

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Baba Yaga Laid an Egg: Reviews: Dubravka Ugrešić: Other Books by Dubravka Ugresic under Review: Other books of interest under Review:

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About the Author:

       Dubravka Ugrešić was born in 1949, in Yugoslavia (now Croatia). Her writing has been translated into numerous languages. She was awarded the prestigious Heinrich Mann Prize in 2000.

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