Imagine learning that you inherited a house from your great-grandmother. However, this isn’t just any home. It has a mind of its own and walks on giant chicken legs.
That is the premise of GennaRose Nethercott’s weird, wacky debut novel, Thistlefoot. It pays homage to Baba Yaga, a supernatural being who appears in many Russian and Slavic fairytales.
Estranged American siblings Bellatine and Isaac Yaga reunite to claim a house that was shipped from the Ukraine after being in storage for 70 years. They soon learn that the house is magical. Although Bellatine and Isaac did not know their great-grandmother, Baba Yaga, they share her magical abilities. Bellatine, who is a professional woodcarver, can bring objects to life just by touching them, much to her consternation. Isaac, who has survived as a con man and street artist for many years, can observe a person and take on his physical appearance.
Bellatine wants to keep the odd house for herself because it somehow provides her great comfort. Isaac agrees to let her have it on one condition: They must travel for a year earning money by putting on the family’s old puppet show, with Isaac keeping the proceeds. She agrees, and they start on their journey with the house, which obeys Yiddish commands. Alas, they soon discover that they are being tracked by the sinister Longshadow Man, who is determined to destroy the structure and anyone who gets in his way.
Some of my favorite parts are the chapters narrated by the house itself, which recalls its own heart-wrenching memories of when Baba Yaga was alive. The author’s Jewish ancestors came from a small town in Russia that was wiped out in a pogrom, and she wanted to pay tribute to their memories with this inventive novel. She shares the message of how we all must be witnesses to the past.
Filled with Jewish folklore, Thistlefoot is utterly original, strange and moving. This eccentric, funny, yet sad tale will appeal to readers who enjoy fantasies and fairytale retellings. And what a fantastic cover!