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Ask Baba Yaga — Book Review

In Slavic mythology, Baba Yaga is a witch who lives in the woods. Her home is a hut with chicken legs, and she flies around in mortar and pestle. Those who seek her aid run the risk of ending up in her cook pot. Unbeknownst to me, she also writes an advice column on Hairpin.
My partner slipped a copy of Ask Baba Yaga into my stocking this year, and I’ve been slowly working my way through it ever since. This book is drawn from the online advice column by Taisia Kitaiskaia, who channels the witch’s wisdom to answer mortal woes.

Baba Yaga as depicted by Ivan Bilibin, 1900.
I love advice columns and I’ve read them for years. Most advice columns tend to tackle rather specific problems (a recent Dear Prudence column, for instance, featured a young woman asking whether she should take her mother to small claims court for giving away her beloved doll collection). Baba Yaga addresses questions that more broadly cover the human condition such as “How do I open up?” and “How can I kill my ego?” As such, it’s really relatable. I suspect that everyone will find some advice in here that they could use.
The book is divided into three broad categories: “Love Cauldrons” (love and relationships), “Good in your bones” (self knowledge), and “The Forest Path” (career and goals).
Each question and its corresponding answer take up a single page, presented in a typewritten font. Baba Yaga’s answers are riddled with strange punctuation and small errors — witches don’t have time for white-out.
The advice is poetic and profound. Some if it gets straight to the point, whereas other entries feel like a stream of consciousness. There’s a lot of nature imagery inspired by Baba Yaga’s forest home. Speaking of imagery, black, white and red illustrations are scattered throughout the book. They have a bit of a Slavic folkloric feel, like woodcut illustrations with a slight mystic bent. Some of them would make quite lovely tattoos, actually.
Those looking for exact steps on how to improve their life may be frustrated by Baba Yaga’s vague, almost prophetic writing style. But those looking for inspiration on how to find their own path through the dark woods will surely find this a beautiful guide book.
2017 has been a rough and confusing year for me. This book, intended as a silly gift from one mythology lover to another, has given me some good insight on how to approach my problems in the new year.
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