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Babayaga: A Novel Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374107874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374107871
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #369,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, August 2013: The rule-abiding detective acclimates remarkably well after being transformed into a flea. The humdrum ad man keeps a cool head when he finds himself neck deep in international intrigue. The warring witches consistently underestimate one another despite their centuries of shared history. And author Toby Barlow proves himself to be refreshingly indifferent to genre boundaries, artfully knotting together one brilliantly bonkers tale that’s part dark comedy, part surreal fantasy, part Parisian love story, part spy thriller, and all magnificently enchanting. His ensemble cast of potently engrossing characters propels several carefully crafted, criss-crossing plot lines, all of which he deftly guides to one satisfying end. --Robin A. Rothman

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Paris 1959. Will, an American advertising exec working for a French agency, accidentally wanders into Cold War intrigue because some people mistakenly think he works for a different sort of agency, the CIA. He also accidentally wanders into an affair with a beautiful Russian woman, Zoya, who just happens to have killed her last lover because he was beginning to realize that, unlike most people, she doesn’t appear to age (because she’s a babayaga, a witch, dontcha know). As if all this weren’t complicated enough, Elga, who until very recently was Zoya’s friend and mentor, has solved the problem of police interest in her friend’s death by turning the investigating officer into, literally, a flea. Barlow’s second book, after the novel-in-verse Sharp Teeth (2008), delivers a helluva good time, a delicious mash-up of Cold War spy thriller, horror novel, and love story. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, like, say, something by Christopher Moore, but it’s witty and charming and exceedingly light on its feet. Sharp Teeth got some people’s attention; with aggressive marketing and word of mouth, this one should put Barlow on the map. The novel is really something out of the ordinary. --David Pitt

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Babayaga" written by Toby Barlow is one of the most unusual books I ever read. Although I'm not familiar with the previous author's work, acclaimed "Sharp Teeth" to be able to compare with, this combination of Russian folklore, love, spies and witches in post-World War II Paris is a combination that completely doesn't fit the frame of any literary genre.

The book is divided in five stories that gradually start overlapping, and first reader would be introduced to Zoya, a beautiful young woman who is also a witch (or as Russian call it babayaga) living in Paris in 1950s. She needs to split with her lover who noticed that she is not aging so she kills him in a rather brutal way. French inspector Vidot who would try to investigate this murder, committed by unknown old woman not looking pretty, will be turned to insect by Zoya's mentor Elga who came because of the disarray Zoya made. Afterwards, Zoya will meet Will who is an undercover CIA agent and will fall in love with him. Elga would take a new recruit to take revenge on Zoya and Will would become part of CIA investigation of Nazi doctor and his relation with Russian witches - babayagas...

I believe that even by this summary you agree that this is one of the most bizarre plot/story. Lot of things are going on in this book and although the things are not exactly fitting at all times it all seems like mix of ideas and genres that in the end produced rather good result.

The book introduces a gallery of characters who are hard to forget, from serial killer witch and inspector who is turned to flea, to the Nazis and CIA agents. The author with ease maintains five simultaneously told stories, making all of them interesting especially when they begin to interconnect.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By persephone on August 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Set in the height of the Cold War, this book presents an alternate history where the fearsome witches of Russia have moved to France to live for a time. It has depth, character, and intrigue in the City of Lights. The characters are interesting, complicated, and well developed. The setting is brought to life with the inclusion of French phrases without overwhelming one with unreadability. It has lots of twists and complications. It is a fun read, that requires some patience to allow for the plot to unfold. For those willing to take the time, this story is well worth the wait--it is a great jewel.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By BrennaJs7 on August 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Toby Barlow's "Babayaga" is a novel stuffed with innovative ideas. The cast of characters is sprawling and wild, containing a detective turned into a flea, a sad ballerina, and a tolerant priest whose relationship with his brother is unusual to say the least. The main characters, witches Zoya and Elga, use their magic and their charms to manipulate the world around them as well as one another, and the mechanics of their magic is explored in an entirely fresh way.
Unfortunately, concept stands in for character development, and the story frequently feels careening and lost. The plot is fast-paced, and one scenario rarely has time to develop before a new element is added. Early in the book, this feels exciting, but as the book continues, it begins to feels jarring. Characters react to the circumstances that they are in to move the plot forward, and this serves to create the feeling that the characters are just pieces being moved around a game board. Brief character histories are included, but these just introduce more clutter and less clarity.
I loved this book for its ideas, but the execution was so poor that I struggled to finish it. To me, it felt like the difference between eating at a buffet and dining at a good restaurant; quantity cannot substitute for quality, and using the right ingredients is better than using all of the ingredients. "Babayaga" was promising, but ultimately unsatisfying.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D. Kittrell on August 16, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Paris in the '50s, the CIA, and Russian (but not Soviet) witches -- the babayaga of the title. Honestly, I can't make up my mind about this novel. It's well-written with an interesting story but all a bit too disjointed and sad. I wanted to like Zoya and Will but Zoya's not a likable person and Will is too, well, mild to fit in the picture being painted of centuries-old witches fighting male dominance in the Beat era. Another story of Zoya in the "swinging sixties", particularly influenced by awakening feminism, would be welcome but might simply detract from the tragic ending of this novel. Buy it, read it, and form your own opinions.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amelia Gremelspacher TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In post- war Paris, this tenet has never been so true. This shimmering book is set in the most magic, liminal city at a time when the great forces of war have paused. As the witch Elga knew, this was not Cold War, it was stasis switching sides restlessly. Zoya, her fellow traveler, has made it her habit to target grandiose men. "More than once she had seen empires undone by the ignorance that pooled around such grand, unflappable confidence." Her last lover was disposed of in a manner that was perhaps too flamboyant. Now she embarks a time with Will, the advertising executive who knows he is feeding the CIA.

The characters in this book are irresistible. Starting with the witch from the Russian stories, Babayaga now known as Elga, a group of five witches leave the wasted Russia. Elga and Zoya the temptress arrive in Paris. The stories of their travels unreel and evolve. Their psychic selves are explored in unusual detail. Their spells are hinted in enmeshing detail. Even the Greek chorus of witches past are fascinating in a way that I did not foretell. I read their tales would be told in blank verse, I wasn't looking forward to it. Then I read it and was hooked. This is a talented writer who manages to engage us within the troubles of a policeman turned into a flea. This doesn't seem likely, but you must read it and see.

This writing is a kind of magical realism that quotes the laws of physics on the preservation of matter and energy in the midst of quivering spells and the epics of men. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to enter a world not evident lying beneath the improbable world which we take to be true.
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