Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, by Dubravka Ugrešić

Second paragraph of third chapter, in original Croatian, and English translation:

– Koje?‘What?’

This won the Tiptree Award in 2010, but is also of interest to me because I know Croatia a bit – we lived in Zagreb for several months in 1998, and I get back when I can.

It’s a novel in three parts. In the first, the (Croatian) narrator talks about her elderly (Bulgarian) mother in Zagreb, and visits Bulgaria; the second part, which occupies the middle two quarters of the book, is about three old Czech ladies at a spa, and the various people they interact with, including a Bosnian masseur; and a fictional anthropologist’s guide to the lore of Baba Yaga, the mythic Slavic crone who flies in various conveyances (often a mortar bowl) across the land.

The stories are engaging in themselves, and also very layered in folklore, with the last section explaining some of the roots of the first two. It’s very entertaining to see old themes reworked, and it works in part because the old folkoric themes are so powerful and tap us at a deep level, and in part because it is funny. The third section, an academic essay in form, ought not to work – I’ve seen other authors earnestly explaining the symbolism of their stories, usually very badly – but it does, I think because Ugrešić’s humour comes through as well.

I also found it interesting that Ugrešić has pulled together perspectives from several different Slavic traditions – Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech and Bosnian – and found threads unifying them. Certainly I had always thought of Baba Yaga purely in Russian terms, and it’s salient to be reminded that there are a lot of other places that share the old Slavic traditions in different ways.

It’s also quite short, another point in its favour. You can get it here.

Of the other works on the Honor List for that year’s Tiptree Award, I think the only one I have read is The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. There were also four other novels, a non-fiction book, and two short stories (both by the same writer).

I read all five BSFA shortlisted novels that year and recorded my vote, which was for Ken MacLeod’s The Restoration Game; it was won by my second choice, The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. The other three nominees were Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes; The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi; and Lightborn, by Tricia Sullivan.

I also read all six novels on the Clarke shortlist that year. I would have voted for The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, but was happy enough that the winner was Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes. The others were Lightborn, by Tricia Sullivan, again, joined by Generosity, by Richard Powers; Monsters of Men, by Patrick Ness; and Declare, by Tim Powers.

That was the year that both Hugo and Nebula Best Novel voters went for Connie Willis’ massive and awful Blackout/All Clear. For Best Dramatic Presentation, both sets of voters chose Inception, which I think has stood the test of time better.

The following year, again, I have read both the Clarke and BSFA winners, but not the Tiptree winner, Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston, so it’s next on this pile.