Baba Yaga Comes to America

GennaRose Nethercott on folklore, fiction, and hidden family stories

From Ivan Bilibin’s illustrated <em>Vassilisa the Beautiful</em> (1899)
From Ivan Bilibin’s illustrated Vassilisa the Beautiful (1899)

Somewhere among the dark forests of Eastern Europe, Baba Yaga, the crinkled crone of Slavic folklore, lurks inside a timber hut atop a pair of chicken legs.  She hops through the woods, doing good or evil or just her own thing, depending on whom you ask. GennaRose Nethercott’s debut novel, Thistlefoot, reimagines the folklore of Baba Yaga in a contemporary American setting. Estranged siblings Bellatine and Isaac Yaga are brought together, somewhat unwillingly, by a surprising and mysterious inheritance: a sentient house on chicken legs, named Thistlefoot, who once belonged to their twice-great-grandmother, and with whom they embark on a cross-country puppet tour. But a shadowy figure from a century ago is stalking them, bringing the horrors of the Yagas’ ancestral shtetl with him. Nethercott is a writer and folklorist whose first book, The Lumberjack’s Dove, was selected by Louise Glück as a winner of the National Poetry Series. She joins us to talk about the folktales and history that inspired her latest work.

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Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman. The music in this episode is “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs,” from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky, performed by the Oslo Philharmonic with conductor Semyon Bychkov.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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