GennaRose Nethercott’s debut novel ‘Thistlefoot’ has nomadic roots both in Ukraine and in the author’s own life

GennaRose Nethercott’s debut novel ‘Thistlefoot’ has nomadic roots both in Ukraine and in the author’s own life

Updated: 12 days, 8 hours, 35 minutes, 49 seconds ago

“I love voyaging, but I am a nester and a homebody. I write in bed,” she explained. “The notion of a home you never have to leave because it always comes with you was very aspirational for me at that point in my life.”

GennaRose Nethercott was living out of the back of her converted Honda Fit with a handcrafted scrolling puppetry theater (known as a crankie) when she began to write her debut fiction novel, “ Thistlefoot .” The Brattleboro, Vt.-based author was on a 100-reading performance tour featuring both her crankie and her award-winning, book-length poem, “The Lumberjack’s Dove.” Though her resume reads like that of a rolling stone—childhood summers with her “touring clown family,” residencies at Art Farm Nebraska and Shakespeare & Company in Paris, a post-collegiate stint as a poet-for-hire while traveling across 10 European countries—it was while traveling that Nethercott began to fantasize about the constant comforts of home.


Her novel follows the journey of Isaac and Bellatine, siblings who inherit an unlikely ancestral gift: Thistlefoot, a magical, roving, sentient house with chicken legs that joins them on their cross-country tour with their puppet act. The lyrical, fantastical story, narrated at times by the house itself, revisits the Eastern European folklore character, Baba Yaga, who—in the story—also happens to be Isaac and Bellatine’s great-great-grandma. The story jumps between the present day and Baba Yaga’s 1919, and in writing it, Nethercott drew inspiration from her own great-great-grandmother’s Russian hometown of Rotmistrivka. The shtetl is renamed Gedenkrovka in the novel (in what is now Ukraine), but the horrific events that devastate the Jewish village are largely the same.

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Nethercott holds a degree in poetry and theater from Hampshire College and studied Scottish and supernatural folklore through an ethnological lens at the University of Edinburgh. The Slavic roots of Baba Yaga were exciting new territory for the writer, who tapped into her family history and Jewish heritage to put a contemporary spin on the lore, citing magical realist writers like Kelly Link and Angela Carter as inspirations.


“I’m tickled by things that feel like antiquated folkloric images rubbing up against modernity,” Nethercott said. “I had this image in my head of a Baba Yaga [house] in a Walgreens parking lot, scratching at a candy bar wrapper on the ground.”

“Thistlefoot,” which debuted in September from Anchor, was written with the support of a Mass Cultural Council Fellowship, and to promote the book, Nethercott is hitting the road again. This time, she’s flying, with a new scrolling shadow puppet crankie designed, like her last one, by artist Wooly Mar. The show is directed by Shoshana Bass, and features a Baba Yaga house by Vermont cabinet maker Gilbert Ruff. (Her gear was strategically built to be checked on a flight—though Baba Yaga, the puppet, will occasionally fly in the cabin with Nethercott.)

GennaRose Nethercott will read from her novel and present her puppet show at the Harvard Coop in Cambridge on Monday, Nov. 21, at 6 p.m.

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