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3.45  ·  Rating details ·  1,780 ratings  ·  340 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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Average rating 3.45  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,780 ratings  ·  340 reviews

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D.M. Busek
Sep 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
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
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
"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... ...more
Sep 28, 2013 rated it did not like it
When all is said and done, this just isn't a good book. The writing is boring and overwrought, and never rises above disappointing. Save yourself the time and instead of reading this, read literally anything else about Baba Yaga that's not written by a man. I was hoping for something with depth and imagination, and instead was left with something bland and unappetizing. The title had me interested - I'll give a chance to anything connected to Baba Yaga, but she's merely used as a prop for a sagg ...more
Jason Ip
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Oh, boy...
Done, finally. How could I not grab this: Russian folklore, Baba Yaga, Paris, murder mysteries, spy thriller... Dark comedy, action, sex, intrigue. It was supposed to be amazing. I was anticipating another "Good Omen" or a Tiffany Aching adventure. But...
Oh well. There will never be another Terry Pratchett.
Unfortunately, I found this book to be tedious, way too convoluted and overpopulated.
Maybe it was the narrator who did not give it justice despite his attempts at the French, Russia
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
Why so tedious. Why. Why. Why.
Nicholas Whyte
Apr 02, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: acca15

The basic plot is about an American innocent in Paris in the 1950s who gets mixed up with some ancient Russian witches who have a typical tendency to kill people (and the Russian priest whose life is mixed up with theirs). But the brilliant bit is a plotline about a police detective who is turned into a flea at an early stage of proceedings, and spends most of the rest of the book hopping from place to place gathering information - about the witches bu
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
Earnest Painter
Jan 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 08, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, mystery
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 ...more
Jul 01, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-books
ummm.. i enjoyed parts of the story a lot (Will, Zoya, Noelle and the Inspector,) other parts, less (Witches Song.) over all it was a good tale, but the end was a bit... dissatisfying for me. it bummed me out, to be honest.

edit - to be fair, i guess i'm too invested in my (view spoiler) /edit
Elaine Bergstrom
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I truly detested fleas before I read this book, now I know they are fascinating least some of the time. Here we have a old crone witch who has lived for centuries, a young and beautiful witch, an undercover CIA agent posing as a ad man and an uptight police detective. When these lives intersect in Paris, things get very strange indeed. I loved the droll humor and the overall great writing. Finding this author was finding a gem.
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I confess that I was hoping for a more traditional mythological voyage (perhaps the title is not the most apt) but I was beguiled by the unexpected turns this story took and delighted by the author's insights into human nature. I'm sure it's not for everyone, but I enjoyed it more than anything else I've read this year and can honestly say it's not like any other story I've come across. ...more
May 21, 2015 rated it did not like it
I'm giving up on page 207 of 383 because unless I've had 3x as much caffeine as I normally do, I can't keep my eyes open for more than ten pages at a time while reading this book.

It pisses me off because nothing's inherently wrong with this book. Honestly. It's not like there's poor grammar or a lack of action or nothing unique--it has all of these things. And Sharp Teeth, by the same author, was a phenomenal book. I just can't get into this one.

There were some minor things that irked me, though
Sep 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-13, fantasy
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
Dec 31, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Boris Feldman
Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
When I was a child, the neighbor across the street was what one might politely call a "hag." Shriveled. Mean. VERY scary. We all called her "the Baba Yaga." Perhaps, I thought, that was her name. Little did I know that this was a term from Russian/Yiddish folklore about Eastern European witches. Not until I began reading stories to our children about Baba Yaga did I learn that my childhood horrors were part of a centuries-long literary tradition.

Comes now this novel. A delightful transposition o
Oct 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Babayaga is a fun book with an amusing premise and a kooky cast. But my enjoyment was totally spoiled by the trite sexist tropes used in place of real female characters. Barlow would have you believe that women are either dumb, conniving, ancient and sexless, duplicitous, lesbian (and sexless), or literally witches. While a few of the male characters enjoyed true development and complexity, most notably Detective Vidot, the women in this book enjoyed, at best, a single character arc: sexual viol ...more
Aug 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Aug 09, 2015 rated it liked it
If I could, I'd give this about 3 1/2 stars. It's better than 3, but not quite 4. And the not quite is probably due to the ending. Like the spells that Zoya and her fellow witches use, I fell under the spell of the book (although it did take a while) - until the end. The finale sort of sucker-punched me back into reality, and yes, I was disappointed. I thought it was going in one direction, but it veered off the rails and left me thinking that Barlow could pick up the characters again, which wou ...more
Oct 04, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Nov 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
I finished the book and started to wonder why I read the whole thing. It was pretty dark and the lead female characters had no redeeming qualities. It's ending was consistent with the dark tone. On a positive side, the writing was beautiful. Almost too much so. Barlow certainly had a big vocabulary but not all of the prose advanced the story. For example, there were whole pages describing hallucinations, but I guess I did not get the point of that. The story also had some good twists and turns a ...more
Jun 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2013
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. ...more
Elizabeth Fagin
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Hmm, let's see.... A band of witches wandering the European continent over centuries, spies who could be working for the good guys or the bad guys or both, a trio of Black jazz musicians who don't mind providing some needed muscle, a mad Nazi scientist now working for the CIA, a rat and a flea who used to be men (did I mention witches?), an indictment of the advertising industry, and more. This mess of a plot line actually shines through in this very well written and entertaining book. ...more
Jonathan Hawpe
May 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
A highly entertaining collision of cold-war espionage hijincks, slightly melancholy Parisian romance, and a gritty style of supernatural witchery. Imagine Mad Men invaded by Gregory Maguire's Elphaba. If we had half-stars this would get 3 & 1/2. ...more
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Book Keeping: Babayaga by Toby Barlow 1 8 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.

Articles featuring this book

His Favorite Books About Paris's Underbelly: The witches come out to play in the new fantasy Babayaga and in these sinister recommendations set in...
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“Men have dragged us by our hair through the ages, and whether they give us crumbs or bright, shiny rocks, they truly give us nothing at all. If you have not opened your legs for them so that they could drawl out as babies or crawl in as men, they they will leave you to starve like a dog on the street. So now we are done playing the way they want us to play. Now we are moving to music they cannot hear, to a rhythm they cannot understand. They call it madness and we call it truth and find me the magistrate you can trust to judge between the two? Bah. So we dance on, we dance on.” 6 likes
“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.” 4 likes
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