Elevate Difference

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

When she sleeps, her nose scrapes the ceiling of her small cottage. Her breasts hang from a pole over the fireplace, and she has a leg made of iron. She lives alone in a hut on chicken legs, and her gates are topped with human skulls. Passing heroes can flatter her and order her to do their bidding, but heroines must serve her in order to win her favor. Baba Yaga, a complicated crone from Central and Eastern European mythology, is a theme explored and exploded in Dubravka Ugresic's Baba Yaga Laid an Egg.

The novel has three parts, all set in Central and Eastern Europe. In the first, a woman deals with her aging mother's increasing senility and travels to their hometown in search of memory and meaning. In the second, three old women visit a health resort to relax and rejuvenate; romance and death follow. The final part is a meta-level, scholarly treatise of Baba Yaga written written from the perspective of a minor character in the first story and as though a folklorist had teased out all the feminine symbols woven throughout the previous two stories.

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg is an exploration of women growing older in a post-Soviet state where distance between people is becoming the norm. Like Baba Yaga, the older women in these stories are dealing with their aging bodies, are often alone or isolated, and are frequently misunderstood, though they help or hinder other characters as they please. While these women are marginalized, they are definitely not powerless. They have the power to transform lives, and this is usually done through wealth they've accumulated during their younger years.

At its core, this is a book about women, bodies, and journeys. While Baba Yaga Laid an Egg is a thicket of fairytale symbols and references to life in the former Soviet bloc, it can be enjoyed by those who don't have a prior interest in either fairytales or the locale. Ugresic is a clever writer who shows in this book that imaginary lands are dangerous places and little old ladies aren't as toothless as they may appear.

Written by: Catherine Nicotera, April 2nd 2010