“I love this gorgeous, gutting, unforgettable book.”—Leni Zumas
“A rich tapestry of autobiography and meditations on feminism, motherhood, art, and culture, this book is as intellectually satisfying as it is artistically profound. A sharply intelligent, lyrically provocative memoir.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
An arresting memoir equal parts refugee-coming-of-age story, feminist manifesto, and meditation on motherhood, displacement, gender politics, and art that follows award-winning writer Sophia Shalmiyev’s flight from the Soviet Union, where she was forced to abandon her estranged mother, and her subsequent quest to find her.
Russian sentences begin backward, Sophia Shalmiyev tells us on the first page of her striking, lyrical memoir, Mother Winter. To understand the end of her story we must go back to her beginning.
Born to a Russian mother and an Azerbaijani father, Shalmiyev was raised in the stark oppressiveness of 1980s Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). An imbalance of power and the prevalence of antisemitism in her homeland led her father to steal Shalmiyev away, emigrating to America, abandoning her estranged mother, Elena. At age eleven, Shalmiyev found herself on a plane headed west, motherless and terrified of the new world unfolding before her.
Now a mother herself, in Mother Winter Shalmiyev depicts in urgent vignettes her emotional journeys as an immigrant, an artist, and a woman raised without her mother. She tells of her early days in St. Petersburg, a land unkind to women, wayward or otherwise; her tumultuous pit-stop in Italy as a refugee on her way to America; the life she built for herself in the Pacific Northwest, raising two children of her own; and ultimately, her cathartic voyage back to Russia as an adult, where she searched endlessly for the alcoholic mother she never knew. Braided into her physical journey is a metaphorical exploration of the many surrogate mothers Shalmiyev sought out in place of her own—whether in books, art, lovers, or other lost souls banded together by their misfortunes.
Mother Winter is the story of Shalmiyev’s years of travel, searching, and forging meaningful connection with the worlds she occupies—the result is a searing observation of the human heart and psyche’s many shades across time and culture. As critically acclaimed author Michelle Tea says, “with sparse, poetic language Shalmiyev builds a personal history that is fractured and raw; a brilliant, lovely ache.”
Sophia Shalmiyev emigrated from Leningrad to NYC in 1990. An MFA graduate of Portland State University, she was the nonfiction editor for The Portland Review and is a recipient of the Laurels Scholarship and numerous Kellogg’s Fellowship awards. She has a second master’s degree in creative arts therapy from The School of Visual Arts, previously counseling survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. Her work has appeared in Vela Magazine, Entropy, Electric Lit, The Seattle Review of Books, Ravishly, and The Literary Review, among others; all with a feminist lens. She lives in Portland with her two children. Mother Winter is her first book.
“A rich tapestry of autobiography and meditations on feminism, motherhood, art, and culture, this book is as intellectually satisfying as it is artistically profound. A sharply intelligent, lyrically provocative memoir.”—Kirkus Reviews (STARRED REVIEW)
"The lyrical prose of Sophia Shalmiyev’s memoir, Mother Winter, splits open like layer after layer of an ornate matryoshka. With a mesmeric voice and scathing vulnerability, Shalmiyev peels her past down to its hollow core: the vacancy left by her absent mother. Across time and geography, Shalmiyev stitches together the diffuse pieces of her fractured narrative in order to find out what it truly is that makes someone the right 'type' of woman, the right 'type' of mother—especially as she becomes a mother herself."—The Paris Review
"Mother Winter is lyrical (an over-used adjective but apt here) and gutsy, delicate and meaty at once. [Shalmiyev] weaves together memoir and meditations on language, her own motherhood, and the writers and artists that she worshiped as her 'feminist mothers' in place of the real thing."—Lithub
"Artist and writer Shalmiyev’s many-faceted memoir is an exploration of heartache and the ways life moves on even after irretrievable changes. Interestingly enough, Shalmiyev’s description of poet Mary Ruefle's work as 'poignant and casual' also captures the spirit of her own remarkable demonstration of public introspection.This is an elegy for lost mothers and lost homes and a consideration of the complexity of national and religious identities and gender roles. A feminist framework underpins a narrative peppered with references to Western art and literature from ancient to modern times and extended by many thoughtful detours. The author's own apparently dueling instincts as a mother and writer are examined with unflinching forthrightness."—Booklist
"The flickering alcoholic parent creates a writer by their absence. The kid colors the void, packs it with stuff, a life, and a love. And thus she lives. Mother Winter, Sophia Shalmiyev’s catastrophically bright, wavering motion of a memoir, forged through sticky clouds of pain, is vividly awesome and truly great."—EILEEN MYLES, author of Evolution
“When she leaves her native Russia at age 11, Sophia Shalmiyev is forced to abandon a mother she may never see again. Mother Winter is the wrenching story of her exile and grief, but it’s also a chronicle of awakening—to art, sex, feminism, and the rich complexities of becoming a mother herself. Like a punk rock Marguerite Duras, Shalmiyev has reinvented the language of longing. I love this gorgeous, gutting, unforgettable book."—LENI ZUMAS, author of Red Clocks
“Shalmiyev stubbornly, brilliantly pursues loss in this psycho-geography of immigration, grief displacement, and damage. A mother herself, Shalmiyev’s narrator channels the ghosts of Dorothy Richardson, Anais Nin, Frances Farmer and the sad, bad stories of Aileen Wuornas and Amy Fisher, who could never be the right kind of girls. Like the great modernist writers, Shalmiyev writes from, not about, trauma but at a pitch that’s witty, dry, sad, and laconic. I love America, her narrator declares. It’s broken, like me.”—CHRIS KRAUS, author of I Love Dick
“The coldness of Russia, of the occult; the heat of punk rock, of motherhood. The psychic tear of emigration and motherlessness, a past gone into mystery. With sparse, poetic language Shalmiyev builds a personal history that is fractured and raw; a brilliant, lovely ache.”—MICHELLE TEA, author of Against Memoir
“Mother Winter slices through the conventions of narrative with the most delicate blade, ribboning what you think you know about memoir, homecoming, what it means to live in a female body, to live as a motherless mother, to be mothered by art and the arms of all that is strong enough to hold you. This book hypnotized me with its beauty and brutality. I feasted on Shalmiyev's sentences and they will stay with me for a long, long time.”—MELISSA FEBOS, author of Whip Smart and Abandon Me