SDR Book of the Week: Babayaga, by Toby Barlow
Babayaga, by Toby Barlow. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 383 pp. $27
I didn’t know what to expect when I started this book. I had never read Sharp Teeth, though I knew it was a huge book and got tons of press. It had sounded interesting, and I thought, at the very least, this book would be enjoying.
Babayaga has it all: It’s got crime and investigation, it’s got CIA spies, it’s got romance, fantasy and even a little folklore. And it all takes place in 1959 Paris.
I think it was the crime element of the novel that drew me in. The clear structure of good guy/bad guy is very easy to read, and usually sucks you in pretty good. You want to find out whodunit as much as the chief inspector does. Only here, we know exactly whodunit right from the beginning. The mystery then became whether Inspector Vidot would track her down and, when he did, what would happen.
This book had twists and turns I wasn’t expecting. I don’t know much about Russian folklore, or about babayagas in general. But I like stories that can take a thread from real history or legend and turn it into something equally great.
I did expect the love story that emerged. Did I expect it to play out like it did? No. Not at all. And it was so exciting to realize what was going on, and realize that I had not seen it coming.
Let’s face it: I read at least a book a week. By this point, I’m pretty versed in story structure and character development. Good books play out as I expected in clever and unique ways with well-written prose. Great books catch me off guard. I bet you can guess which category I placed Babayaga in.