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3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  961 ratings  ·  209 reviews
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
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2013)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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This novel is an excellent example of how to use perspective as a tool for deepening your story. The shifting point-of-view not only provides additional perspectives on the events of the plot, but cuts to the heart of each character's commitment to the events. And the events are a bit madcap, which I loved -- Balkan witches and spells, Cold War espionage, homage to Fitzgerald, Kafka, some Dr. Who, maybe even some Christie (Hercule Poirot?) Vidot was my favorite character, not only because we are ...more
D.M. Busek
As a Russian, I'm partial to everything concerning Baba Yaga. And I dislike it when she's used as a prop to describe something or someone completely different (Which happens almost every time they write about her nowadays). I'm not going to lunge into comparisons here; and anyway the witches in the book were done with gusto and credibility (if one may say so about witches). It's just that they had nothing to to with B. Yaga. She deserves a book of her own - and quite a different book it should b ...more
Oct 05, 2013 Suzanne rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Suzanne by: my fondness for Sharp Teeth
Detroit may be a mess, but at least they’ve got Toby Barlow and that’s quite an asset.

Babayaga should probably more properly get a 4.75 or 4.8 on Suzanne’s Almost Impossible to Get a 5-Star Rating System, because it didn’t change my life or anything, but I did enjoy it very much. I think I’m rounding up because I am so happy that this book proves conclusively that Barlow is not a one-hit wonder. See my review of Sharp Teeth for thoughts about his debut effort.

Babayaga is a thoroughly amusing r
Washington Post
"Babayaga" has a convoluted and densely populated tale of intrigue, murder and witchcraft set against the backdrop of Cold War espionage in 1950s Paris. It borrows some interesting and surprising history about the CIA’s covert involvement with the Paris Review. It's lighthearted and cartoonish, yet the novel asks not to be taken too seriously. This is its most fundamental mistake, from which all its others spring: Even if a novel is a rip-roaring yarn or a bonkers comedy, one can feel whether, b ...more
Okay, I'm done with this one, into the abandoned book pile. The writing wasn't bad, but I'm over halfway through and I just don't care about any of the characters, except maybe the police detective that was turned into a flea (yes, seriously!). Maybe I'll come back to this one someday...
Jason Ip
Babayaga was quite the ride -- a tale spun from the dark dredges of superstition mixed in an east european cauldron of mysticism with a dash of unqreuited end-of-the-world kind of romanticism and bloody intrigue. The ensemble of characters come armed with varying weapons, indicative of the colourful archetypical characters readers can identify with that are deconstructed as the story flies apart at its seams. From a spurned spellweaving hag capable of devastation after revenge against a youthful ...more
Why so tedious. Why. Why. Why.
This historical fantasy set during the start of the Cold War in Paris featuring a CIA sting, a vengeful witch, a star-crossed couple and a earnest detective who becomes transformed into a flea was all kinds of inventive, but ultimately failed for me because I thought the author struggled to keep the many moving parts of this novel working in tandem. The characters of Elga, Zoya and Will were fully developed and fun to follow, but Oliver remained as big of a cipher as the sketchy pharmaceutical c ...more
Originally posted at

Innocuous Will Van Wyck was working at an advertising agency in Paris in 1959 when his life lost its sanity. Will always knew, vaguely, that his ad agency was actually a front for the Agency, which has infiltrated all of Europe as part of its Cold War strategy. Then he meets Oliver Ames, archetype of the carefree American, who drops CIA connections, hidden guns, and other seeming non sequiturs into casual conversation. Poor Will is con
Babayaga, the wise and terrible old witch from Russian folklore, is living a low-profile life in Paris in 1959. Known as Elga, she made a long journey during the war, escaping Stalin’s brutality while gleaning the spoils of war by helping advancing generals and by employing witchcraft as needed. As in the Russian fables, Babayaga has sister witches who are also called Babayaga. In this story, just one survives: Zoya, an eternally beautiful witch who relies upon men to keep her kept in luxury, un ...more
There's a lot going on in BabaYaga, and if not everything fits together exactly perfectly, well who cares? Parts of this book seemed like a caper novel. It's kind of like a goulash. Or a jam session would be a better metaphor, since Barlow seems to like jazz. In a jam session, you throw ideas into the mix. It's charm is that it can mesh together . This was a fun book to read. I'm looking forward to his next book
Earnie Painter
The idea of Baba Yaga is intriguing. When I looked up the word – or name – it seems that it has the same meaning in many of the Slavic languages. She is what we would know as a witch, an old ugly hag of a witch with nothing but wickedness in her heart. This is what I read as a kind of preliminary study for reading this novel. My previous experience with the name is from a children's book called Babushka Baba Yaga, a title that caused a Bulgarian woman I know to giggle when I asked her what it me ...more
I haven't entirely worked out what I thought about this book. I more or less have a loose collection of reactions. 1. At the beginning if the book it seemed like he was describing a Paris of 1920 not of 1946. 2. I had a hard time accepting Zoya's rational for being the short, fat guy's mistress. I could not see him providing anything she wanted - but then following that line of reasoning - What did she want? 3. I thought Will was a well crafted character - but to be that innocent about a tie to ...more
I am so excited to get a new book from Toby Barlow! The density of language in Babayaga is quite a contrast to the scarcity found in Sharp Teeth...both are amazing books and show the versatility in writing that Barlow has. It’s near impossible to summarize the various story lines that are going on in Babayaga; espionage, Russian witches, jazz, advertising, memories of Detroit and transmogrification, all with the backdrop of postwar Paris. Everything is woven together perfectly, and we get some s ...more
Aug 19, 2013 A rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: read-2013
Fantastically imaginative and breathlessly inventive, but in the end only 3 stars because it was a bit draggy and unnecessarily convoluted. Barlow doesn't really have able enough writer chops to work the whole espionage story angle, but thankfully the clever fantasy part and the incredibly enjoyable and relatable cast of characters are both plenty of fun on their own.

PS. Rodrigo Corral is my favorite cover designer of all time (OF ALL TIME) but his cover for this book (and the corresponding inte
Babayaga, by the author of Sharp Teeth, is about witches, spies, cops, and one very hapless, clueless analyst in 1959 Paris. One of the strengths of Sharp Teeth was the free verse that made for a very unique, interesting read. Babayaga is more straightforward, but much more wacky with oddball characters popping up all over in this madcap literary adventure. It's eminently readable, but for some reason it failed to completely grab me. I have to give it a lot of props for what the author was doing ...more
Susan Conklin
I laughed my way through this sharp witted read. Can't wait to read Toby's other books.
I am torn about my feelings for this novel. Overall, I really enjoyed it. The magical workings of two babayagas or witches and the havoc they create in early 1900s Paris was full of vivid characters, funny situations and even a little romance. But it is just such a convoluted story that it lost a little of its oomph. I did really love the character of Detective Vidot, whose metamorphasis into a flea is truly an enjoyable sidebar. And Barlow did a good job weaving together all the multitudes of s ...more
Im Paris Ende der 1950er Jahre lebt der junge Will van Wyck, vordergründig arbeitet er bei einer Werbeagentur. Allerdings wird er bald seinen Job verlieren, denn sein wahrer Arbeitgeber (die CIA) hat seine Interessen nach Asien verlegt und die Informationen, die Will bringen kann, sind trotz des kalten Krieges nicht mehr von so großem Interesse. Welche Entwicklung er lostritt als er mit Oliver um die Häuser zieht, ahnt Will nicht.
Etwa zur gleichen Zeit wird ein Toter aufgespießt auf einem Zaun
Carlos Mock
Babayaga by Toby Barlow

The year is 1959. The place is Paris France, in the middle of the Cold War. Zoya Forminitchna Polyakov is a Russian witch who has lived for centuries. Her current lover, Leon Vallet, has started to figure out that Zoya has not aged. Zoya kills him in a brutal way.

Inspector Charles Vidot is the lead detective of Leon Vallet's murder and his investigation takes him to Elga Sossoka's apartment. Elga is Zoya's master witch and creator and she's upset about the investigation.
Franklin Park Public Library
This is Barlow's second novel and once again the author explores urban underworlds of a mythical/mystical kind. A “Babayaga,” as many Boomers will remember, is a Russian witch.

This book is about two women who thrived during the chaos which has riddled Europe at least since the time of Napoleon and who find themselves in Paris after World War II. There is a fascinating cast of characters, which includes an ad man, Will from Detroit, who deals with a range of cold warriors; crones Zoya, Elga and N
Bill Wallace
Paris 1959 is full of spooks and witches. A mostly satisfying light fantasy with a good sense of time and place, Babayaga is a fine modern example of the school of imaginative writing that was the staple of the old Unknown Worlds pulp magazine. There are a few stunning hallucinatory passages when the witches' magic is at work and the overall plot and well drawn characters make the book easy to read and hard to lay down. My criticisms are minimal. The author may have tried to load too many things ...more
What a great read. Barlow does an excellent job of maintaining 4 or so separate stories simultaneously, and keeping them all interesting. At times one would pique my interest more than the others, but really they were all enjoyable, especially when they start overlapping. I don't know if I liked this more than Sharp Teeth, though that is just like an appetizer for the Babayaga entree. I passed on my galley to a German girl I met in Oz, I know she's going to love it.
I picked this book up because it looked fun; it is, but it is also so much more. Parts of the book are a classic screwball comedy, but the novel is rooted in deep emotion. He does something that sounds so cliche: he poetically compares two love affairs, one old and one two, both set in Paris. And yet the book feels fresh and unexpected. Attempts at elegant turns of phrase generally annoy me, and yet I found myself writing down quotes, like "Will was not surprised that his new friend was late. Ol ...more
I love reading about history, both in a fictional and non-fictional context. I learned to love the subject when I was in fifth grade, when I was hit with the epiphany that history is nothing more than a story - a long, complicated, and ongoing story, but a story nonetheless. And, as a child who loved to read stories, it made the subject not just bearable to study, but endlessly fascinating.

But, as often happens with those with a reading habit, I gradually developed a preference for a specific s
Neilie J
This was so different from Barlow's previous book, Sharp Teeth, I'm amazed it's by the same guy. I guess that's just format though, since this takes a more traditional approach to its prose. Both bring fairytale elements to life within modern urban environments and have interesting commentary about human behavior.

About tourists in Paris: "...they will be...packed like wet sardines on those new Pan Am and TWA flights (the book is set in 1959), pouring out in record numbers to overwhelm the palac
Interesting cast of characters (witches among them) - from a serial killer to a police inspector who gets turned into an insect. Multi-faceted and imaginative. It does not move all that well despite all the different characters of focus, but it's very sexy and other-worldly. SPOILER: A serial-killing witch turns a detective into a flea, but gets her just desserts.
Babayaga us the name of an old crony witch in Slavic lore. And it is witches that abound in this novel. There is Elga who is the old crone and Zoya who is the young beautiful witch that Elga has known for hundreds of years and is now starting to really dislike.

Zoya kills a lover at the very beginning of this novel that takes place in 1960's Paris. This leads the police to Elga's house looking for Zoya. Elga, immediately changes the police into a couple of fleas, steals their car and is on the hu
Brian Grover
This is a fun idea for a novel, poorly executed. At the end of the day, Toby Barlow just isn't a very good storyteller. I say that because it's his second book, and I was equally excited to bring home the first one based on the jacket cover (spies and witches run amok in 1959 Paris! Sounds fun!). Like his debut novel (Sharp Teeth, a story about werewolves in modern day Los Angeles), the characters are poorly drawn and boring (how do you make witches boring?!), and the plot has huge logical incon ...more
I'm undecided on this one. It took me a really long time to care about any of the characters. I never did really care about Zoya or Will or any of the other witches or spies or jazz musicians who show up every few pages, but I became really invested in what was going to happen to the flea detective. So let's just focus on that. This is the story of a detective who is turned into a flea by an angry witch, and then must find a way to return to his proper body before the short lifespan of a flea re ...more
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Book Keeping: Babayaga by Toby Barlow 1 6 Jan 30, 2014 10:48AM  
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Toby Barlow lives in Detroit, Michigan. He is the author of Sharp Teeth, winner of the Alex Award in Horror, and Babayaga. He is a graduate of St. John's College in Santa Fe, NM.
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Sharp Teeth

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“You take a shower, your head is up, far away from everything, lost in the clouds, but down in the tub, man, you know who you are.” 2 likes
“Immediately he surprised her, for she like the way he kissed, like a man who wanted to swallow life.” 2 likes
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