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Reviews of The Night of Baba Yaga by Akira Otani

The Night of Baba Yaga

by Akira Otani, Sam Bett

The Night of Baba Yaga by Akira Otani, Sam Bett X
The Night of Baba Yaga by Akira Otani, Sam Bett
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  • Published:
    Jul 2024, 216 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Katharine Blatchford
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About this Book

Book Summary

A fierce mixed-race fighter develops a powerful attachment to the yakuza princess she's been forced to protect in this explosive queer thriller: Kill Bill meets The Handmaiden meets Thelma and Louise.

Tokyo, 1979. Yoriko Shindo, a workhorse of a woman who has been an outcast her whole life, is kidnapped and dragged to the lair of the Naiki-kai, a branch of the yakuza. After she savagely fends off a throng of henchmen in an attempt to escape, Shindo is only permitted to live under one condition: that she will become the bodyguard and driver for Shoko Naiki, the obsessively sheltered daughter of the gang's boss.

Eighteen-year-old Shoko, pretty and silent as a doll, has no friends, wears strangely old-fashioned clothes, and is naive in all matters of life. Originally disdaining her ward, Shindo soon finds herself far more invested in Shoko's wellbeing than she ever expected. But every man around them is bloodthirsty and trigger-happy. Shindo doubts she and Shoko will survive much longer if nothing changes. Could there ever be a different life for two women like them?

Akira Otani's English-language debut moves boldly through time and across gender, stretching the definitions and possibilities of each concept. Rendered in a gorgeous translation by International Booker–shortlisted Sam Bett, this lean, mean thriller proves that bonds forged in fire are unbreakable.

Excerpt
The Night of Baba Yaga

"MY EYES ARE puffy. This is bad."

In the car outside the café, Shoko pulled a compact from her handbag and gave her face a serious inspection.

"It'll be fine in the morning."

"I know that. But not by dinner. Father will ask what happened to my face. Maybe I should tell him I was bullied by my driver."

"Go ahead."

"... Would that upset you?"

"If you want me to be upset, then sure."

"... You're the worst. So twisted."

Look who's talking, Shindo almost said. Instead she started up the car.

The last of the daylight was retreating from the streets.


Salarymen heading home and students in their uniforms and moms with kids walked through the sunset, each person at their own pace. Tokyo was full of people. The thought hit Shindo at least once a day, even after years of living here. So many different kinds of people, doing different things. Different ages, different jobs, faces and bodies, clothes and interests. Living here, Shindo was just another person in a sea of ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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When Yoriko Shindo gets into a brawl on a busy street in 1970s Tokyo, she has no idea what the repercussions will be. Her fighting catches the attention of the Naiki-kai, a branch of the Japanese organized crime syndicate known as the yakuza, and she is kidnapped. After a failed escape attempt, they give her a choice—die, or work for them as the bodyguard and chauffer of Shoko Naiki, the boss's daughter. Otani's prose is tight and sharp, conveying a great deal with short, blunt sentences. The fight scenes in particular are very well-written, capturing both the allure violence holds for Shindo and her desperation. I highly recommend The Night of Baba Yaga to fans of thrillers, especially those focused on martial arts or organized crime, as well as readers looking to branch out into the genre...continued

Full Review (582 words)

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(Reviewed by Katharine Blatchford).

Media Reviews

BookPage (starred review)
"The English language debut of Japanese writer Akira Otani, features all the elements you could hope for from a crime thriller set in the Land of the Rising Sun: a heroine spiritually descended from samurai stock; two pairs of lovers on the run; a beautiful and spoiled young woman treated like a hothouse flower by her doting father; and a yakuza presence that is gloriously, gratuitously violent, well beyond the traditional chopping off of a pinky finger for perceived insubordination.

First Clue Reviews
As thrilling as it is fast paced.

Foreword Reviews (starred review)
The sharp prose conveys action sequences, tense exchanges, and tender moments with deftness and lively details. By turns terrifying and empowering, The Night of Baba Yaga is a dark thriller in which two women defy all conventions and risk much to regain their autonomy.

Tokyo Weekender
Otani's explosive debut navigates gender and time, offering a gripping, unbreakable thriller.

Booklist (starred review)
Circular plotting, clear villainy, and primal motives evoke the Brothers Grimm's warning tales; this literary genre-bender will appeal to readers who favor fairy-tale adaptations, vigilante-justice thrillers, and queer crime fiction.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Otani's artful, staccato sentences, deftly translated by Bett, draw readers in, and an unexpected time-jump midway through the novel gives it an ingenious jolt of life. This tender yet furious crime saga will leave readers hungry for more from Otani soon.

Author Blurb John Copenhaver, Lambda Award–winning author of Hall of Mirrors
Part kick-to-the-solar-plexus martial arts thriller and part poignant queer love story, Akira Otani's spare, tightly plotted The Night of Baba Yaga is a violent and transgressive marvel. The two women at its center—the tough bodyguard Yoriko Shindo and Shoko, the yakuza 'princess' she's charged with protecting—couldn't be more different on the surface, but they awake in each other a desire to live free from the yakuza's cruelty. I read the novel in a breathless flash and still can't shake the sheer power of its ending.

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Beyond the Book

Japanese Yakuza Films

Battles Without Honor and Humanity movie poster featuring a man in a suit screamingAkira Otani's intense thriller The Night of Baba Yaga tells the story of two women trying to escape from a branch of the yakuza, a real-life organized crime group thought to have originated in the 17th century when many samurai left the service of lords and turned to banditry. Like the mafia in American movies, there is a long history of the yakuza appearing in Japanese film.

In the 1960s, a type of film known as ninkyo eiga, or "chivalry films," became popular, with Toei Studio as the most well-known producer. While focused on the yakuza, these films were closely related to samurai movies, which had become popular in the 1940s and '50s, and were often similar in plot and characterization, building up the myth of the yakuza as ...

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