The Time of Women Book Club Guide

White Shanghai by Elvira Baryakina

The Time of Women by Elena Chizhova

The story of three old women who take in a young factory worker, Antonina, and her daughter, Susannah,The Time of Women has plenty to offer your reading group. Set during the mid-20th century in Soviet Russia, the three older women Yevdokia, Glikeria and Ariadna impart to Susannah the history of her country as they experienced it: from before the Russian Revolution, to the early days of the Soviet Union, to the siege of Leningrad and the starvation of World War II.

Realising Susannah is mute, they hide her from the authorities fearing that she will be taken from her family and sent to an institution. When Antonina falls desperately ill, the ‘grannies’ are faced with the reality of losing the little girl they love – unless a stepfather can be found before it is too late. More... 

  • How would you describe the different personalities of Glikeria, Yevdokia and Ariadna? How do the memories they share show us their different backgrounds and life stories?  
  • Why do you think the ‘grannies’ wanted to look after Susannah? What kind of approach do they have to bringing her up?

  • Through Antonina’s experiences, what does the book tell us about what it was like to become a mother in Soviet Russia? What kind of pressures did women face if they had a child outside of marriage?
  • Discuss the theme of Christianity in the book. Why do the three ‘grannies’ believe it is so important to baptise Susannah and give her a Christian name? 
  • Antonina and Nikolai’s factory is often shown to be much more than just a workplace for the Soviet citizens that work there. How do its rules, regulations and values affect their personal lives?
  • Why does Antonina’s affair with Nikolai end badly? How does it compare with the love affairs the older women have had in their lives? 

  • The Time of Women is set in an era when a significant percentage of men had been lost to war, leaving many Soviet women without partners. Although the book focuses on women, it also includes Nikolai and Solomon Zakharych as important characters. How do you feel about the author’s portrayal of men? 
  • How does Antonina deal with her diagnosis? What would you do in her circumstances?

  • Compare the lives of the three older women with those of Antonina and Susannah.  Can you see any continuities in their experiences as women? Do you think times have improved for women in Russia? 
  • What questions would you ask Elena Chizhova if you had the chance to speak to her? Are there any questions you feel the book leaves unanswered? 

  • Has this novel broadened your perspective? What stays with you most from The Time of Women?
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Catalogue 2017

Catalogue 2017

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