Elena Chizhova is a Russian writer pursuing a long held dream to have her novels published. This dream was realised five novels ago, and now her work is being made available to Australian readers. We were fortunate to have her tell us a little about her work.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I was twenty when I first started writing poetry. For many years my dreams to be published remained just that, dreams. At the same time I was busy with something entirely different – making a career in science, teaching and, already after perestroika, had to become a businesswoman, a necessity at the time when many men were unable to find employment in a new socio-economic environment. And someone needed to feed my family…. That is when I realized and became firm in my desire to write prose. I was sure that unless I do it, the life that I had ahead of me would not be mine, it would be a life of a stranger. By the end of the 90s I made the decision, and since then published five novels.
What inspired you to write this novel?
First and most of all, the memory of my family, the victims of the long Soviet era; then my country’s past which, sadly, does not want to remain in the past. Too many characteristics of the Soviet way of life migrated into our modern day. The pain that I feel when writing my novels, is rooted in the XXth century, in the distorted narration of its history that today is filled with myths. Until we, Russians living in Russia, fully realize the impact of this mentality, until we uproot remnants of totalitarianism, our country will not be able to move forward.
Can you tell us a little about The Time of Women?
It’s a story of a little girl who was orphaned at an early age and could not speak until she was seven. Her mother died young, and three elderly women, random neighbors in a shared apartment, whose relatives perished under the merciless wheel of the XXth century, make a decision to take care of the child. Doing this brings back what they thought they’d lost under the iron thumb of the ruling power – the feeling of self-worth and dignity. The girl grows up to become an artist. This, in short, is the novel’s plot. For me, though, this book is the destiny of my generation and my nation’s history. Only due to the preservation of true factual history and memory of events, many of us were saved from falling into the Soviet trap and grew up normal people.
That Time of Women has been staged by two theatre companies, Moscow Sovremennik Theatre (“The Contemporary”) and the Saint Petersburg Tovstonogov Bolshoi (Great) Drama Theatre, did you see any of the shows, if so what did you think?
Of course I saw both plays. In St. Petersburg I even had a chance to co-author the play. The two plays are quite different, but each has a special flavor that I like. Moscow’s play turned out more naïve, but bitter and sincere. I heard how people were sobbing during the performance. In St. Petersburg the director envisioned an epic, but not without comic scenes, and scenes rather tragic. In the near future two other Russian theaters are producing a play based on this novel.
You were the first woman from Russia nominated as A Woman of Action by the Canadian ‘A Celebration of Women’ Foundation. Can you tell us what the nomination means for you and how it came about?
I was deeply honored to receive this nomination. I also thought that so many women in my country could be called Women of Action. Russia has always been the land of brave women, whose heroism is in having to raise their children and support their families in harsh conditions.
Are you working on a new novel you can tell us a little about?
My novel An Old Woman in Terracotta was released last summer. The book is about perestroika through the prism of women’s perception, women whose primary goal was to raise their children despite catastrophic socio-political changes. The plot revolves around two women, whose long lasting friendship was challenged by events beyond their control. Soon, in about three months, I am expecting the release of my new novel Orest & Son. This book is my attempt to contemplate about the destiny of the Soviet Union in the global historical context. I carried this idea for a long time – to demonstrate how after 1917, after that awful revolution, my country was derailed from mankind’s main track. Plot-wise the story is about three generations of a Leningrad family. This novel is especially dear to me, and I hope someday the book will become available to the English speaking reader.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Most of all, reading. I read fiction and popular science books. Love watching movies, hanging out with friends, chatting with my all grown up daughters… and, I like sewing and knitting.
Are any of your other works available in English?
Not really, which is unfortunate. But I hope someday this situation will change.
What does being a woman mean to you?
In a few words, being a woman means being a man and a woman in one. It means writing my books, taking care of my home, renovating my house, raising my kids, being responsible for my family, making decisions, driving a car, sewing and cooking…. Okay, that was obviously a joke, but to some extent there’s a bit of truth in that too. In reality while I am a woman, I am first of all myself. Now that I’ve become a writer, I live my own life, life I was born for. Or so I think.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Elena, it’s certainly been enlightening. Good luck bringing more of your work to an Australian audience.