Hardly Ever Otherwise Book Club Guide

White Shanghai by Elvira Baryakina

Hardly Ever Otherwise by Maria Matios

Maria Matios’s dramatic family saga, Hardly Ever Otherwise, narrates the story of several western Ukrainian families during the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and expands upon the idea that “it isn’t time that is important, but the human condition in time.”

In Matios’s multi-tiered plot, the grand passions of ordinary people are illuminated under the caliginous light of an ethereal mysticism, and digressions on love, envy, transgression, and atonement are woven into the story. Each character in this outstanding drama has an irrefutable alibi, a unique truth, and a private conflict with honor and duty. Her characters do not always act in accordance with logic and written-law, as the laws of honor clash with the laws of the heart. And this is why it is hardly ever otherwise. More... 

  • Family is a central theme of the book. What do family ties mean to the characters?  
  • What did you think about the structure of the book, where the author uses three different short stories which intertwine to show us an ever-growing picture of events?

  • The book is set in a small, fairly isolated community. Discuss the positive and the negative sides of rural life that Matios portrays (e.g. morality, marriage, religion, reaction to outside events, justice, sexuality, superstition).
  • What role do children play in the story? What kind of attitudes do the adult characters have towards children in the village? 
  • What did you think about Matios’ approach to the difficult themes of violence and war?
  • Hardly Ever Otherwise takes us through a story as seen through the eyes of particular characters - mainly women. What did you think about the differences between how female characters such as Dotsia, Teofila and Petrunia see themselves, and how the male characters see their wives, lovers and daughters? 

  • What do Matios’ descriptions of food and the natural world (e.g. plants, animals, the seasons) tell us about daily life in this period
  • What did you think about the character of the “sacred soul” Marynka? Did the element of magic enhance or detract from your enjoyment of the book?

  • Did the book change the way you thought about this particular period of the past? Did anything in the book surprise you
  • What questions would you ask Maria Matios if you had the chance to speak to her? Are there any questions the book leaves unanswered

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Catalogue 2019

Catalogue 2019