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Babayaga
by Toby Barlow

Overview -

By the author of "Sharp Teeth," a novel of love, spies, and witches in 1950s Paris--and a cop turned into a flea
Will is a young American ad executive in Paris. Except his agency is a front for the CIA. It's 1959 and the cold war is going strong. But Will doesn't think he's a warrior--he's just a good-hearted Detroit ad guy who can't seem to figure out Parisian girls.  Read more...


 
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More About Babayaga by Toby Barlow
 
 
 
Overview

By the author of "Sharp Teeth," a novel of love, spies, and witches in 1950s Paris--and a cop turned into a flea
Will is a young American ad executive in Paris. Except his agency is a front for the CIA. It's 1959 and the cold war is going strong. But Will doesn't think he's a warrior--he's just a good-hearted Detroit ad guy who can't seem to figure out Parisian girls.
Zoya is a beautiful young woman wandering "les boulevards, "sad-eyed, coming off a bad breakup. In fact, she impaled her ex on a spike. Zoya, it turns out, has been a beautiful young woman for hundreds of years; she and her far more traditionally witchy-looking companion, Elga, have been thriving unnoticed in the bloody froth of Europe's wars.
Inspector Vidot is a hardworking Paris police detective who cherishes quiet nights at home. But when he follows a lead from a grisly murder to the abode of an ugly old woman, he finds himself turned into a flea.
Oliver is a patrician, fun-loving American who has come to France to start a literary journal with the help of friends in D.C. who ask a few favors in return. He's in well over his head, but it's nothing that a cocktail can't fix. Right?
Add a few chance encounters, a chorus of some more angry witches, a strung-out jazzman or two, a weaponized LSD program, and a cache of rifles buried in the Bois de Bologne--and "that's" a novel But while Toby Barlow's "Babayaga "may start as just a joyful romp though the City of Light, it quickly grows into a daring, moving exploration of love, mortality, and responsibility.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780374107871
  • ISBN-10: 0374107874
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
  • Publish Date: August 2013
  • Page Count: 383


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-04-22
  • Reviewer: Staff

Russian folklore and Cold War intrigue come to blows in Barlow’s uneven but charming five-part novel. The reader is introduced to Zoya, a babayaga, or witch, living in Paris some years after WWII, as she gets rid of a lover who has noticed her failure to visibly age. The messy results lead her to drag in Elga, her mentor; Elga in turn gets heat from a detective and turns him into a flea. Zoya then meets, charms, and falls for a CIA agent named Will who has problems of his own. As Elga takes on a new novice in order to take revenge on Zoya, Will’s mistakes entangle him in a CIA plot involving a former Nazi doctor with ties to the babayagas. The love story between Zoya and Will never quite gains believability, and the first half of the novel is slow, but the history Barlow (Sharp Teeth )weaves for the babayagas—Elga in particular—is worth reading. Agent: Stephanie Cabot, the Gernert Company. (Aug.)

 
BookPage Reviews

A Kafka-esque 1950s murder mystery

There’s an unclassifiable quality to Toby Barlow’s work—it’s not quite fantasy, not quite magical realism. With Babayaga, the Detroit-based writer returns to the strange mix of magic and raw human energy found in his debut, Sharp Teeth. Once you begin reading, you’ll stop trying to define this novel and simply term it an exhilarating ride.

Barlow’s narrative focuses on the lives of several very different but equally fascinating individuals in 1950s Paris. Will is a down-on-his-luck American advertising agent whose firm just happens to be a CIA front. Oliver is an American partier who came to Paris with dreams of starting a literary journal. Inspector Vidot is a detective who went to an old woman’s home to investigate a murder and somehow found himself turned into a flea. And then there’s Zoya, a beautiful young woman who attracts men with ease. But then, Zoya has been a beautiful woman for centuries—and that’s just the beginning of her talents.

Barlow has a gift for rendering the fantastic in a striking, matter-of-fact way. Even at its most fanciful (we are, after all, talking about a novel that features a man being turned into a flea), Babayaga is grounded by firm and careful prose. Every page blends the realms of the impossible and bizarre with the realms of history, culture and the human condition—and in that blending, the magic begins to feel very, very real.

But Barlow is not merely satisfied to believably inject magic into his narrative. As Babayaga meanders through the City of Light, it becomes deeper and even more fascinating— a meditation on love and secrecy and magic and what it means to be human that moves far beyond its intriguing premise. Babayaga is a book that, appropriately, casts a spell that’s hard to break.

 
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