ALU Summer Book Club: Yaga Staff Discussion

This week ALU book club broke out the snacks and met to discuss Kat Sandler’s Yaga (Playwrights Canada Press), our August book club pick. We shared thoughts on the whip-smart dialogue (seriously consider a play for your next book club for the dialogue alone!), representations of women, the Twin Peaks-ish vibe of the story, and more. Read on for our discussion highlights and to download our questions for your own book club. 

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1. Given that plays are primarily intended for the stage, all we’re given are stage directions and dialogue. What was that reading experience like for you?Lauren: Being given just the dialogue and stage directions really works for me as a reader. It gives a sort of economy to the narrative that lets me dig right into the good stuff (in my opinion, anyway)—character and dialogue. I always read plays when I’m in a bit of a reading rut, because I know I’ll get back on track.Laura: Fast and energetic—I love reading plays and love to rely on sharp dialogue, which this book delivers so well. Dialogue does the heavy lifting of characterization.Tan: I love reading plays. The focus on dialogue with minimal description allows me to imagine it freely. Dialogue is my favourite part of a story. The characters have to be well thought out and developed, distinct, as sometimes one actor plays many roles. I would love to see this play!Mandy: Playwrights are masters of dialogue; Kat Sandler in particular writes very quick-fire banter and comedy. She’s also masterful at character, especially women. But in general, reading a play  is super fun. I like that I have to work to fill in the blanks, like the setting and the internal states of characters, but what I find so interesting is that I actually don’t work that hard to do so because the dialogue is so well written—it feels like you’re watching a scene unfold between these characters with only a few stage directions2. The character of Baba Yaga has appeared in many pop culture works as well as in fairytales and folklore settings where she’s often an antagonist that kills people and grinds up their bones—though sometimes she’s helpful too. In Yaga, she’s been modernized and given her own voice. What did you think of this retelling of the character?TanI liked the mash-up of the maiden-mother-crone and the Yaga myth, firmly reimagining her in this quintessential female role. Usually, she eats children, destroying families. Her monologues are so well written, and speak to female rage and disempowerment.Laura: This version of Baba Yaga is so smart and compelling—weaving in a commentary on women’s lives and the projections society makes on women who don’t conform to expectations. I loved how there was a triumvirate, a multi-generational Baba Yaga or perhaps better: a community. And the monologues interspersed throughout the play worked so well. I loved how they were written and can imagine the delivery: punchy, making the case, so that we, the reader/audience begin to understand Baba Yaga’s side of things. Lauren: I think Yaga does what all great revisionist works do: gives us the why to an antagonist’s actions. Laura mentioned how she loved the Baba Yaga’s monologues in the play and I agree, these are excellent sequences that show you who she really is and what motivates her.MandyI loved it. I loved that Sandler made Baba Yaga an intellectual, that she made her funny and sharp. It’s an all-around fun take on the character and more seriously, in this version, Baba Yaga is a symbol for collective female rage. I especially appreciated the scene where Katherine is making a podcast with Henry who sees Baba Yaga as an evil one-dimensional character, and has no idea how badly he’s been played right there. Tahmina: I grew up reading and watching a lot of Baba Yaga stories. In every variation I came across, Baba Yaga was depicted as the evil witch that snatches children. Those stories were never centered around her, they were always written around the children (usually siblings) that got snatched. Some other variations showed Baba Yaga as an apprentice to the antagonist of the story—so she wasn’t even the main evil lead. I felt that Yaga was actually her story and her character was more complex. We got to hear her side of the story told in her own voice. I liked this retelling of her character because it was different from what I expected and was a fresh version of a story that’s been told many times. 3. The author plays with different genres in the story—police procedural, folklore, mystery. Did you favour one over the other in this version of Baba Yaga?Mandy: The quick-fire comedy really grounds the mythology of the story as does the cop story, but at some point they kinda blend together and the action really ramps up. It was a page turner for me. Laura: Each element brought its own energy or angle to the play. I enjoyed the mashup without really stopping to examine each genre. Lauren: It may just be because I’ve been watching Twin Peaks for the first time, but the police procedural elements fit right into that wacky, sexy, Lynchian world and I ate it all up.Tan: So Twin Peaks! The police procedural was the perfect comedic framework for this play.Tahmina: As an avid crime thriller reader, I really enjoyed the police procedural and mystery genre in this version of Yaga. I loved the dialogue between Carson and Rapp, it made me think of cozy crime mysteries I enjoy reading. I think that the mystery component of this play was also very well written, it really did keep me guessing until the end. 4. The story keeps you guessing until the end. Did you catch any foreshadowing? Were you surprised by the ending?Laura: I admit to being completely surprised, in the best way.Tan: I wasn’t really surprised by Carson, but I was happy Rapp survived. Liked the Bad Dog idea shared with Humane—abusive men getting comeuppance from the universal female energy.Lauren: I tend to take things at face-value and this was no exception: I was very surprised by the ending and loved how it came about. Mandy: Definitely surprised. I mean,  I kind of anticipated Rapp would be in a hairy situation by the end but definitely didn’t see the twist of the last few pages. 

Click here to download our discussion questions for your own book club. (Clicking begins a PDF download.)

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Reading Yaga for your own book club? Tag us in your photos @alllitupcanada and let us know what you think of the book!And if you’re looking for your own copy, there’s still time to get Yaga for 15% off here on All Lit Up until the end of the summer.Next week, we wrap things up with book recommendations for those who enjoyed Yaga as much as we did.