Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

Dubravka Ugresic
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg Cover

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg


Ugresic's novel consists of a short introduction on the presence, or non-presence, of old women in modern society, and moves into two apparently unrelated narratives. In the first, a successful Yugolsavian author and academic deals with her aging and difficult mother. These chapters are realistic, funny, and sad and detail a situation many readers of a certain age will either know from experience or might find themselves facing soon. In part two, a group of elderly women visit a spa, and there they have adventures. They meet curious and interesting characters, they make surprising discoveries, one wins a fortune at the roulette wheel, and one of them dies. The third person narration has a casual, ironic tone and ends each chapter with a loosely rhyming couplet.

Part three, which seems to be the section that does in many readers, takes the form of a peer review of part two, offered by a folklorist who's been asked to comment on the Baba Yaga symbolism in the account of the old women's trip to the spa. The folklorist is a character - a rather annoying character - from the first story. She knows a lot about Baba Yaga, the witch from Slavic folktales, and she goes on at length about every element of the tale she finds in the manuscript she has been sent. And yes it gets a little boring, but she even apologizes for going on too long.

If you are allergic to post-modern tropes, you might want to steer clear of Ugresic's narrative exercise. I think she pulls it off brilliantly. She creates a unique voice for each part of the story and moves gracefully from realism to fantasy. Here is the conclusion of a chapter from the opening section.

Every time I ran across that picture, it took my breath away. Her face, thrust into the frame, and her grin, both victorious and apologetic, melted away the heavy doors of my inner sanctum, and I would dissolve, if "dissolve" can describe what happened inside me at those moments. And when all my strength, the strength of my every nerve, was spent in sobs, I would spit out a tiny, breathing body, five or six inches across, no larger than the smallest toy doll, with a shapely skull planted on its spinal column, a slight forward stoop, eyelids lowered as if asleep, and, hovering on her lips, the hint of a smile. I'd study the fragile tiny body in the palm of my hand, all wet from tears and saliva, from some vast distance, with no fear, as if it were my own small baby.