The language of silence finds a voice

Review of The Time of Women
March 17, 2012
By Phoebe Taplin

Elena Chizhova's "The Time of Women" captivated RBTH literary critic Phoebe Taplin with its story of life in Soviet Leningrad.

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.

Sofia’s silent commentaries are peppered with a child’s fears and fairy tales; in the poignant prologue, she remembers following her mother’s coffin which “should be made of glass. Then everybody would see that Mama is asleep, but will wake up soon.” There is not much mystery as to how the story will end, but the richness of both characters and atmosphere pulls the reader through a plot whose folktale motifs — ghostly brides, sleeping daughters and scheming old women — are part of a very real world of factories and dormitories haunted by war. Read further