For the Feminist Science Fiction Book Club this month we read Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić. Ugrešić’s book won the Tiptree Award this year. I’ve got mixed feelings about the book, though it fully deserves the Tiptree.
I generally prefer story-based novels. Baba Yaga Laid An Egg follows a different format. The first part contains an autobiographical-sounding story about a writer’s relationship with her aging mother, and a visit the writer takes to the family’s original home in Bulgaria on behalf of her mother. The second is a fairy-tale like story about three older women who visit a spa in a foreign country. And the third is commentary and background on the Baba Yaga stories and the first two sections by a character in the first section. There are over-arching themes, but not a single story. Hence, it didn’t quite satisfy my normal desire for a story.
The prologue contained an intriguing start:
You feel a pang of sympathy for the old lady, you are moved, you do a good deed, swept by the thrill of gallantry. It is precisely at this moment that you should dig in your heels, resist the siren call, make an effort to lower the temperature of your heart. Remember, your tears do not mean the same thing as yours do. Because if you relent, give in, exchange a few more words, you will be in their thrall. You will slide into the world that you had no intention of entering, because your time has not yet come, your hour, for God’s sake, has not yet come.
I loved this introduction! In my head, little old ladies want to feed you cookies, need help carrying groceries, and have cute little dogs that they dote on. They are nice and innocuous. The concept of old women as ominous struck me as delightful. In my mind it is somewhat subversive. But on the other hand, there’s a very real history of turning old women into witches and persecuting them. So it might not be all that subversive outside my suburban-raised world. Those are two of the big tropes about older women: invisible or evil.
In the book group, we discussed the third part far more than the other two. Aba Bagay is a young character from the first section, and she ostensibly writes this section. The content is a primer on various Baba Yaga myths, and also commentary on the first two parts. The primer is wide-ranging. Pretty much any folk tale about older women is drawn into the Baba Yaga universe. One of the overall effects is to point out how the Baba Yaga myth can be used to say just about anything, particularly when in the hands of pseudo-intellectuals.
I most enjoyed the second part. It was absurdist and fun. The first and third sections were dour.
This month, Timmi Duchamp hosted our group and participated in the discussion. Listening to her and Paige and several of the other women in the group (I am one of two regular male participants) talk about the book was amazing. They are much smarter than I am. I see about one tenth of the items they see. I’ve only had the basic English lit class in college, and no classes on feminist theory. So I’m not really able to dig deeply on a text like Baba Yaga Laid An Egg. All of this is an explanation of why I point people to Timmi’s writeup of our discussion over at Ambling Along The Aqueduct. Any deconstruction I would write other than what’s above would be based on the discussion between the women in the group, so it’s much better to go to the source.