Review – Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

egg-and-spoon

Stars crown the world, she said, but the lights in your eyes, those are stars, too.

They make up your crown, he said.

I am no queen of anything.

Something too few of us know while we are alive, he told her. We are all crowned with glory. Peasants no less than kings.

Egg and Spoon is the story of two Russian girls – Elena, the peasant girl, who believes in Baba Yaga and the Firebird; and the wealthy and highly educated Ekaterina, Cat for short, who believes the Baba Yaga and the Firebird are foolish superstitions.

Elena is suffering alongside all the other Russian peasants, struggling to care for an ill mother after her father has died and her brothers have been dragged into service for the Baron and the Tsar respectively.

One day, a train stops in their village, unable to go forward due to a broken bridge. The train holds Ekaterina, on her way to St Petersberg to meet the godson of the Tsar.

Through a certain twisting of fate Elena ends up stuck on the train to St Petersberg, and Ekaterina ends up left behind in Miersk.

While Elena experiences a life beyond her wildest imaginings, so too does Ekaterina, who after fleeing Miersk finds herself in Baba Yaga’s cottage, being eyed-off as a tasty treat.

Overall the character of Baba Yaga sits a little closer to the side of kindly-grandmother than fearsome-hag (as I imagine her from the Vasalisa tale, from which I know her best), and yet I like this portrayal. Mostly the old hags have been misunderstood, after all.

Baba Yaga is, in her own words… “I am the larch root in the spring and the feverwort blossom in the fall. I am the forlorn echo in the dry community well. The tisane that can chase away the blues. I live in isolation for my own protection and for yours.”

Both Ekaterina and Elena end up in St Petersburgh, which is flooded, because the snows have not come, and winter has not been as cold as it usually is.

The challenge now is to discover why things are not as they should be.

While the style of writing is unusual – there is a narrator who is seperate from the story (though he does have a minor part), and who occasionally addresses the reader, this is a brilliant tale, full of snippets of wisdom.

I couldn’t recommend this more.

 

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