This book has the funny honor of being the last book I got out of the library before March 13th when everything shut down around here, and which I am stuck with until July. My local libraries have suspended all due dates, and like yours, this also means I can’t return books either. I like to get books out of my hands as soon as possible, and I usually over-borrow and return what I decide not to read. I decided not to read this, tried to return it, couldn’t, and now two months later have looped all the way around back to reading it. I don’t remember why I got it out of the library in the first place other than I have had some success with Eastern European women writers like Olga Tokarczuk, or Ludmilla Ulitskaya, or Magda Szabo (all of whom write and publish in other languages). I don’t even have all that much interest in or connection to Eastern Europe (my heritage is American mutt, and if pressed, mostly Irish), but I’ve enjoyed them.
I came back to the idea of reading his book because of Ugresic’s inclusion in the Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia, which I read recently and found his comments interesting. I further went for it because I realized this was one of the Canongate Myth series books, and I’ve read several of those (Jeanette Winterson’s Weight and AS Byatt’s Ragnorak both of which I enjoyed). Those books tend to be very give or take (there’s a few I made false starts with), and I found this one to be about the most realized version of these books (and this can include the Hogarth Shakespeare books which are similar in a lot of ways, and have about the same failure rate) that I’ve come across.
The book is broken into three sections: a writer trying to come to terms with my aging, dying, and fading mother; a group of older women visiting a spa, and a long text by a Russian folklore scholar giving a brief history of the Baba Yaga myth and commenting back on the novel we’ve just read. That scholar by the way is named Ada (who shows up in both previous stories), and her full name is an anagram for Baba Yaga. So this book retells, explores, and plays with the myths, and most important seems to be an actual novel, not just a commissioned piece of writing, which is what many of the other books in both series often feel like.