The Time of Women

The Time of Women


The Time of Women
Astrel (2010)
ISBN 978-5-271-26989-9
Elena Chizhova's book The Time of Women weaves together the personal and historical struggles of mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and women who become sisters through сircumstance in “a secret culture of resistance and remembrance”.

Life is not easy in the Soviet Union at mid-20 th century, especially for a factory worker who becomes an unwed mother. But Antonina is lucky to get a room in a communal apartment that she and her little girl share with three elderly women. Glikeria is a daughter of former serfs. Ariadna comes from a wealthy family and speaks French. Yevdokia is illiterate and bitter. All have lost their families, all are deeply traditional, and all become “grannies” to little Suzanna. Only they secretly name her Sofia. And just as secretly they impart to her the history of her country as they experienced it: the Revolution, the early days of the Soviet Union, the blockade and starvation of World War II. The little girl responds by drawing beautiful pictures, but she is mute. If the authorities find out she will be taken from her home and sent to an institution. When Antonina falls desperately ill, the grannies are faced with the reality of losing the little girl they love – a stepfather can be found before it is too late. And in this” time of women”, what they need is just a bit of kindness and cooperation from a man.

The Russian Booker Prize winning novel The Time of Women captures the atmosphere of a communal apartment of the early 1960s, where memories of starvation and death in first cataclysmic half of the century, as well as the loss of their own children, have receded in the background of everyday worries – such as how to preserve flour from one season to the next, or how to afford a wool suit for the 7-year-old girl. Here the author gives priority of voice to the grandmothers who having lost their families in the World War II siege of Leningrad and quietly tell their stories to the future writer during confidential conversations at home. Chizhova uses these scraps of stories to form base of her narrative, voicing the terrible facts of the siege in contrast to official versions from Soviet books.

The novel features a variety of characters representing a collage of Soviet society, which only seems to be equal and to treat all its citizens alike: the aristocracy, the clerisy, villagers secretly mocking communist ideals while hoping only for God's help, low-level party officials, trade union members ardently loyal to the Soviet Union, factory workers just starting to believe in the benefits of Soviet society and hoping that one day it will actually be possible to have a washing machine at home.

The emotional tension of the book with its complicated narrative structure, transferring the speaking voice from one character to another, has aroused the interest of theater directors: it has been successfully realized as a play by the famous Moscow Sovremennik Theater "Contemporary" and the Saint Petersburg Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theater.

The Time of Women has already won the hearts of the readers in Italy and Bulgaria after the translation to their languages has become available. 

The book translated by Simon Patterson and Nina Chordas is published in English by Glagoslav Publications


March 17, 2012
By Phoebe Taplin

Young Sofia can’t speak, but she is one of the most important narrators in Elena Chizhova’s “The Time of Women ,” the sad and beautiful tale of life in Soviet Leningrad. We hear her thoughts (and her adult voice, framing the story) as she tries to make sense of life in a 1960s communal apartment, growing up with a single mother and three surrogate grandmothers. They raise her on a mix of secret religion, parables and French while keeping her out of the orphanage.