Elena Chizhova

elena-chizhova

If I am honest, I wrote it for those who died. I wrote it for them. I was speaking with them. I always had the feeling they were listening to me.

– Elena Chizhova (in an interview in The New York Times, 5th March 2010)

Elena Simonovna Chizhova, born in Leningrad in 1957, has established herself as one of Russia’s leading modern writers. Over the last decade, all her novels have received prestigious awards and recognition, culminating in the Russian Booker Prize 2009 for her latest work, A Time of Women.

Chizhova has a degree in economics, has worked as an English teacher as well as in business, and is currently the director of St.Petersburg PEN Club. She is married with two children.

Featured Reading Group Title

Крошки Цахес (Children of Zaches)

Winner of the Northern Palm, 2001
Winner of the Zvezda journal Literature Premier, 2001

Children of Zaches has particular interest to English-language readers as it approaches fundamental human values with the help of Shakespeare. The novel is set in the Soviet Union of the 1970s, in an English school for the children of Leningrad’s elite where pupils are coached by top teachers with a view to shaping them into exemplary Soviet citizens who can present a flawless and smiling face to the West, and in particular, to the foreign delegations who visit the school. However, the school is not quite the utopia the Communist leaders wish it to be. One English teacher is determined to provide her pupils with an alternative education, and she does this through teaching them Shakespeare.

The teacher organises a Shakespeare Club for her pupils where they stage recitals and plays. Shakespeare becomes her protector, providing her with a new language, a new medium through which to teach the children. When faced with one of the giants of literature, the state officials who are sent to monitor the Club are powerless to argue, all the more so as they quite literally don’t understand a word spoken on stage. The future of the Club hangs by a thread, but finally it is decided that presenting a good face to foreign delegates outweighs other concerns, and what could be more impressive than an array of neat and tidy children reciting Shakespeare?

However, the teacher has quite another objective in mind. In creating the Shakespeare Club, she is reaching out to the children, teaching them not to focus on the false Soviet reality which will eventually stifle their spirit, but offering them a way out before they, too, are sucked into the society of hypocrisy. The children respond warmly and eagerly, and the Shakespeare Club becomes a source of solace and independence where they are free to explore the joys and sorrows of growing up and falling in love.

More information

  • Elena Chizhova was one of the four Russian authors discussed in the And Other Stories’ 2011 Russian Reading Group
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