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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. Born to a Russian mother and an Azerbaijani father, 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. 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.” "Vividly awesome and truly great.” —Eileen Myles "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)


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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. Born to a Russian mother and an Azerbaijani father, 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. 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.” "Vividly awesome and truly great.” —Eileen Myles "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)

30 review for Mother Winter: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Of the three memoirs I read this month, Mother Winter was far and away the one that hit me the hardest, which may surprise you as I've talked before about my disinterest in 'motherhood books' (only as a matter of personal taste). But I suppose Mother Winter is less of a mother book than it is a daughter book, centered on the irreconcilable grief that Sophia Shalmiyev incurred by growing up motherless. This is a sharp, focused, achingly tender and highly literary memoir that reads like a constant Of the three memoirs I read this month, Mother Winter was far and away the one that hit me the hardest, which may surprise you as I've talked before about my disinterest in 'motherhood books' (only as a matter of personal taste). But I suppose Mother Winter is less of a mother book than it is a daughter book, centered on the irreconcilable grief that Sophia Shalmiyev incurred by growing up motherless. This is a sharp, focused, achingly tender and highly literary memoir that reads like a constant gut-punch. Growing up in Leningrad in the 1980s, Shalmiyev had very little contact with her alcoholic mother, who she was forced to leave behind altogether when her father decided to emigrate in 1989. Shalmiyev spends the rest of her childhood and then adolescence and then adulthood unable to contact her mother, without any means of finding out if she's even alive or dead. Her experimental memoir (which will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Maggie Nelson) fuses her unique experience of loss with themes of exile, grief, sexuality, displacement, and feminism; she often looks to iconic feminist women as stand-in maternal figures, as she relentlessly interrogates the lacuna that comes to define her. Shalmiyev's prose is vivid and searing. In this passage she's talking about a dream she has where her mother is a statue at the bottom of the sea, and the imagery and emotional honesty on display here is rather emblematic of the rest of the book: When you're fished out, you will go to your proper place in a museum to be admired by me only. I will polish your bronze name plaque, and I will be writing the small paragraph, printed on heavy card stock in a tastefully solemn font, about you as a priceless relic, a found shard, degraded, a puzzling piece of history. A head lost, bust found somewhere, a battered woman with blank eyes, erected by those who had infinite worship in their hearts. My one criticism is the overly abrupt ending, which leaves the reader with question after unanswered question. I obviously have to ask myself if that was indeed the point, which is certainly a possibility, but this is one of those books that seems so mired in the past that there isn't much consideration for the future, and I'm left wondering what Shalmiyev intends to do after the final pages of this book. But, perhaps she does not owe us that explanation, or perhaps we will have to wait until she writes another book. Which I certainly hope she will. Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review. I will check the quote against a finished copy upon publication.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    By all accounts, I should have loved this book as it ticks all my boxes; I generally enjoy memoirs written by women and those that focus a mother-daughter relationship particularly, I love memoirs that are told mostly unchronologically and academically, hell, I adored the first sentences (“Russian sentences begin backwards. When I learned English well enough to love it, I realized my inner tongue was running in the wrong direction.”) but somehow this did not translate into me getting on with the By all accounts, I should have loved this book as it ticks all my boxes; I generally enjoy memoirs written by women and those that focus a mother-daughter relationship particularly, I love memoirs that are told mostly unchronologically and academically, hell, I adored the first sentences (“Russian sentences begin backwards. When I learned English well enough to love it, I realized my inner tongue was running in the wrong direction.”) but somehow this did not translate into me getting on with the book. Sophia Shalmiyev tells of her relationship with her mother, or rather of her relationship of the hole that her mother left in her life. Drawing on literature and theory and many things in between she attempts to paint a picture of that fundamental loss in her life. Born in Soviet era Leningrad to an abusive father and alcoholic mother, Sophia struggles with the sense of loss incurred by her father kicking out her mother and then later emigrating to the US without her. I did find her language clumsy but not in a way that improved my reading experience (which odd sentence structure sometimes can do for me as it makes me read slowly and carefully); now, I am not a native speaker so this might very well be a fault with me rather than with the book. For a book this abstract and intensely introspective, I would have liked the language to be sharper and more precise though (something that Maggie Nelson – whose work this has been compared to – does without a fail). There was also an abundance of metaphors here that did not work for me at all and usually took me out of the reading flow (for example: “The decade is a bronze disease patina – the green paste – on a doorbell that rings when you show up, and you do not show up very often.”). In the end, while I am not usually somebody who judges books on a sentence to sentence basis, I seem to have done so with this book, which lost me early with its vagueness in prose and never recaptured my interest. I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review. You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    Mother Winter is award-winning writer Sophia Shalmiyev's autobiographical account of her challenging childhood and her need to find somewhere she belonged. The description of leaving Russia with her father to fly to the US in search of a better life reminded me very much of Maria Sharapova's memoir as the situation where her mother stayed behind in Russia with Shalmiyev having to grow up without her is identical to what happened in Sharapova's early life. I couldn't imagine growing up without a Mother Winter is award-winning writer Sophia Shalmiyev's autobiographical account of her challenging childhood and her need to find somewhere she belonged. The description of leaving Russia with her father to fly to the US in search of a better life reminded me very much of Maria Sharapova's memoir as the situation where her mother stayed behind in Russia with Shalmiyev having to grow up without her is identical to what happened in Sharapova's early life. I couldn't imagine growing up without a mother figure, and the authors search for a surrogate is moving, in fact, the whole book is profound and poignant. But it isn't only autobiographical it also explores serious and timely topical issues with sincerity, and this makes it a powerful, hard-hitting read; It's a lyrical, beautiful and altogether emotive experience. There is rumination over motherhood, feminism, loss, grief, sexuality, gender politics, history, self-identity, displacement, refugees, art and culture, and that's just for starters. However, at its heart, all of this feeds into the key subject - coming-of-age in a strange country without a mother. But make no mistake this is a heartbreaking story where you feel the authors pain, rage, sadness, not least due to the abuse she suffered. The format in which it is written is indeed unconventional; we not only have the story arc, but there are sporadic inclusions of poetry and vignettes too. Some may find the way it is written disjointed but I'm a fan of unusual formats and structure, so it works well for me. Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for an ARC.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    After her alcoholic mother lost custody of ten-year-old Sophia Shalmiyev, her father emigrated with her from Leningrad to the United States - as they left the USSR in 1989, Shalmiyev not only lost her biological mother, but her home country collapsed and vanished behind her. In her memoir, which is also the author's literary debut, we learn about Shalmiyev's childhood and adolescence which were overshadowed by her mother's illness and excess as well as her father's violence, about her trip back After her alcoholic mother lost custody of ten-year-old Sophia Shalmiyev, her father emigrated with her from Leningrad to the United States - as they left the USSR in 1989, Shalmiyev not only lost her biological mother, but her home country collapsed and vanished behind her. In her memoir, which is also the author's literary debut, we learn about Shalmiyev's childhood and adolescence which were overshadowed by her mother's illness and excess as well as her father's violence, about her trip back to (now) St. Petersburg to find her lost mother as well as her journey to become a mother herself. While the story is certainly affecting and interesting, what sets this memoir apart is the lyrical composition of the text - which is unfortunately also the source of some of its problems. But first things first: I applaud Shalmiyev for being daring and ambitious, for venturing out into poetry, art and history and for trying to find a unique und recognizable voice. I rather see someone aim for something bold and courageous and maybe not quite getting there (yet), instead of reading a text which is suffocated by conventionalism - and you certainly can't accuse this author for being overtly conventional. The two dominant narrative strategies Shalmiyev employs are playing with poetic images and ideas - like numbers or descriptions of nature - and making connections to famous people, often women, from Sappho to Aileen Wuornos and Malala. And of course there is the underlying theme of the lost mother, which is at the center of the whole text (the book cover shows a picture of her). Especially the poetic images are sometimes overreaching and underline how hard this author is trying - again, I want my writers to work hard, but some of the numerous vignettes are just overdone and make the writing feel forced (I can't quote from the text because I have an ARC). Authors like Terese Marie Mailhot show that it is possible to write a highly poetic memoir without falling into these traps. Still, this book is well worth reading, as it is surely fascinating to follow Shalmiyev in her lyrical adventure. I think this author has the potential to one day write a novel that will blow all of us away. Until then, you can also have a look at the pictures on her website which illustrate some scenes in "Mother Winter": https://www.sophiashalmiyev.com/about/ (scroll down!)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rene Denfeld

    I dashed to get this memoir after reading an amazing article about it by Chelsea Bieker in Electric Literature. Typical to me, I gulped it down in a few days (is there a surefire way to make yourself read slower? I read too fast). This is an amazing memoir. It's a seamless tapestry of vignettes about the missing mother—the missing, aching core—of Shalmiyev's life. Mother love is both romanticized and reputed in our culture: romanticized in both demands for perfection, and reputed in how we actua I dashed to get this memoir after reading an amazing article about it by Chelsea Bieker in Electric Literature. Typical to me, I gulped it down in a few days (is there a surefire way to make yourself read slower? I read too fast). This is an amazing memoir. It's a seamless tapestry of vignettes about the missing mother—the missing, aching core—of Shalmiyev's life. Mother love is both romanticized and reputed in our culture: romanticized in both demands for perfection, and reputed in how we actually treat it. Shalmiyev does a brilliant job of not just showing how deeply important the mother bond, but helping us feel its loss, the turning-away of a society that proclaims to support mothers and children but rarely actually does...and the deeply abiding shame we install in motherless children. I highly recommend this memoir.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    I'm crying uncle. I cannot do this. I read the first quarter of the book, which is wall-to-wall rage and violence, much of it sexual, and explicitly so. There's a tremendous amount of potential here, because Shalmiyev is a true word smith. But when a writer mines her pain and rage to create a narrative, there still needs to be pacing, and there still needs to be an arc. This memoir, which I picked up again at the 80% mark but still didn't finish, is dialed into the maximum-horror setting from th I'm crying uncle. I cannot do this. I read the first quarter of the book, which is wall-to-wall rage and violence, much of it sexual, and explicitly so. There's a tremendous amount of potential here, because Shalmiyev is a true word smith. But when a writer mines her pain and rage to create a narrative, there still needs to be pacing, and there still needs to be an arc. This memoir, which I picked up again at the 80% mark but still didn't finish, is dialed into the maximum-horror setting from the get go to the end--or at least, till the 85% mark, which is where I permitted myself to quit for real. Sometimes less is more, and sometimes horror is better conveyed by building up to it than by pummeling one's readers on page one and swinging unremittingly clean through. I hope it was cathartic for the writer, because I don't think it's going to make her rich. Apologies to Net Galley and Simon and Schuster for taking a galley I couldn't read in its entirety, and yet I suspect I am not alone.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Sophia Shalmiyev starts her story pining for her absent Russian mother and then pivots through other parts of her unmoored life with the spark of a poet and the fire of an immigrant riot grrrl. This isn't the tightest memoir in the world but screw tidiness; when Shalmiyev deliberately drives her story off the rails it's in the most sensational and entertaining style. The parts about her own experiences as a mother and her early years in the northwest are vivid and moving. There's also a nice sma Sophia Shalmiyev starts her story pining for her absent Russian mother and then pivots through other parts of her unmoored life with the spark of a poet and the fire of an immigrant riot grrrl. This isn't the tightest memoir in the world but screw tidiness; when Shalmiyev deliberately drives her story off the rails it's in the most sensational and entertaining style. The parts about her own experiences as a mother and her early years in the northwest are vivid and moving. There's also a nice smattering of shout-outs to other artists that have influenced the author. A lot of stuff packed into these pages. A wild memoir by a great Portland writer.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nicole reading_with_nicole

    This is Sophia’s debut book; a memoir of her life and I feel memoirs cannot be given ratings like a fictional book, because this is her story, she lived it and she is gifting it to us and I am grateful she did. Release Date February 2019 Sophia elegantly and lyrically takes us on the journey of her life, what it was like for her to live without her mother. A mother she was taken from; because her mother was an alcoholic. A father she was forced to live with, a father who was abusive and took her This is Sophia’s debut book; a memoir of her life and I feel memoirs cannot be given ratings like a fictional book, because this is her story, she lived it and she is gifting it to us and I am grateful she did. Release Date February 2019 Sophia elegantly and lyrically takes us on the journey of her life, what it was like for her to live without her mother. A mother she was taken from; because her mother was an alcoholic. A father she was forced to live with, a father who was abusive and took her from Russia without her every seeing her mother again. The longing of a child and the questions of why constantly being there. All of the adversity did not break her, it made her strong and it gave her an amazing outlook on not just life but being a woman and a mother. I loved everything about Sophia’s book, it is raw and honest and very relatable. I felt all her pain and her highs and lows. When she was hungry, I felt her hunger, when she was describing what it was like to be unkept, I wept for her. What I loved the most is the use of vignettes; I have not read a memoir that has used them and tied them in so beautifully that I got lost in reading them. I found comfort and strength in her words, being a woman and reading another woman’s life story is empowering.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ygraine

    mother winter is something adjacent to but not entirely like a memoir; it feels more like a sort of curation of tapes, recorded pieces of thought cut out of the fabric of a life and grafted together, played into a slight graininess and, at times, an almost incomprehensibility, homophonous sounds tripping the tongue and the mind. reading it is a dizzying, an unsettling experience - shalmiyev is writing about the vast unanswerability of being an exile, a refugee, a motherless daughter, a woman, a mother winter is something adjacent to but not entirely like a memoir; it feels more like a sort of curation of tapes, recorded pieces of thought cut out of the fabric of a life and grafted together, played into a slight graininess and, at times, an almost incomprehensibility, homophonous sounds tripping the tongue and the mind. reading it is a dizzying, an unsettling experience - shalmiyev is writing about the vast unanswerability of being an exile, a refugee, a motherless daughter, a woman, a body and mind inscribed by trauma, abuse and loss, and her use of structure and of voice challenge the reader to understand what cannot be understood. in many ways, mother winter shares fellow-feeling with jacqueline rose's mothers: an essay on love and cruelty: both are writing about the contradictions, the repressions, the cultural and personal anger that haunt our relationships with mothers as people, and with motherhood as a role, and both try, through the messiness and sometimes-pain-sometimes-pleasure of their own lived experiences, to make sense of themselves as mothers. but where rose is constructing an academic argument, building slowly but inexorably a sort of holistic perspective that, while it cannot resolve motherhood itself, can challenge the social structures and cultural representations that distort and damage our ability to see it for what it is, shalmiyev is making something entirely different, something that i'm not sure there are easy words for. it is elliptical, her sentences jarring in their subject changes and often fragmented, moving from remembered events to lists of related but never fully connected thoughts to pieces of cultural material, literature, art, philosophy. it is unrelenting in its demands of the reader - it is awfully, viscerally raw in tone and almost violent in its refusal to be easy, either to read or to imagine. i'm not sure what to call it as a project, or how exactly to think about my response to it, but i'm fascinated and repulsed and saddened, and doubt i'll forget it easily. i received an advanced reader's copy of this book courtesy of netgalley and simon & schuster in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lolly K Dandeneau

    via my blog:https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ 'Hall of Fame. Hall of Shame. That’s Motherhood…' This is a memoir of longing and love for one’s absent mother, as if when Sophia Shalmiyer left her native Russia in the 1980’s for America a decade later, in her Azerbaijani father’s care whom she called a ‘benevolent dictator’, she too was forced to divorce her mother. “It was too risky to ask for her and be denied so I didn’t say her name much.” Yet for so long, she had ‘no body’ without her moth via my blog:https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ 'Hall of Fame. Hall of Shame. That’s Motherhood…' This is a memoir of longing and love for one’s absent mother, as if when Sophia Shalmiyer left her native Russia in the 1980’s for America a decade later, in her Azerbaijani father’s care whom she called a ‘benevolent dictator’, she too was forced to divorce her mother. “It was too risky to ask for her and be denied so I didn’t say her name much.” Yet for so long, she had ‘no body’ without her mother. Who grounds us in our bodies more? While Sophia was still in her homeland, her mother was already failing at motherhood, certainly in the Hall of Shame category more than Hall of Fame. Women are forgiven nothing, especially in the 1980’s Soviet Union she spent her childhood, where her alcoholic mother was ‘pickled in the brain’, is judged far more inferior to any man who struggles with alcoholism. Of course her father gets to keep her. A father, who tries to ‘heal’ his little girl when she comes home from boarding school on weekends, who has an inconsolable need for her absent mother, the body hungry for her loving touch and nurturing. Stuck at that school so that she’ll be safe from the threat of that very mother showing up, she deals with bullying, unkempt as she is standing out like an outcast and many ailments. Her body as undernourished as her hungry heart. Sophia ruminates over the state of motherlessness, and explores feminism through time, reminding us of how the blame always falls to the mother, even if she does everything ‘right’ by societal standards. That women, even those we admire for their boundless talent are still caving into men, letting their bodies betray their intelligence. How she was unable to fill the space her mother’s absence occupied until she herself was a mother and could give them all that love she never got to feel. Yet her mother’s blood courses through her still, that urge to flee and trickles into her own babies, just like eye-color and height. For Shalmiyev, she chases her mother through time, a woman who may be dead, how would she even know? A mother who one time demanded to know her young daughter’s whereabouts but was denied because another man, her ex husband’s brother, decided she be ‘kept in the dark’ because she was in a bad place, wasn’t sober, judged and found wanting. Men, making decisions for women without one thought for their own wants and needs. A mother that has been smudged, remnants of her appearing only in the mirror as Sophia grows up, looking at her reflection. “I would like to wear an equivalent of a medical alert bracelet: I lost my mother and I cannot find her- née Danilova. This is poignant, “why can’t it be both ways? Why do mothers have to be forgotten or brave like soldiers?” Her mother is erased, for being a drunken mess, a failed mother and in that erasure a life is shaped, a motherless future for Sophia. The days in Russia are vastly different from her next life, coming of age in America where standing out and being ‘special’ is praised, not like in the Soviet Union where everyone is meant to be the same, where choices are limited. But before that, as a preteen refugee in Italy she loses so much of her innocence. Her father fails her too. In America there is Luda, a stand-in mother of sorts, one of her father’s Ukranian girlfriend’s that comes to join them from Russia. Only 12 years older she is in between being a mother and a sister for Sophia. There is love and rivalry between them, another person who doesn’t want to hear tell of Sophia’s mother, whom in Luda’s eyes is nothing but trash, whorish. Of course as her sole female role model, she wants to be the only mother in Sophia’s heart, jealous even of the longing she feels. Later there will be work at a peep show in her twenties, hanging out in the music and art scene in Seattle, as hostility settles over her, gifted at leaving her body when she needs to and being present when she chooses, something she mastered far sooner than anyone should. She is in danger of becoming her mother for a while, until she finds a life in New York and a career. Jumping time lines do not always work but when they’re done intelligently it flows and isn’t a disruption. I think it’s just right here! The flashbacks in time feed into the future and situations trigger memories of the past. I like that it’s not just a sad memoir about wishing for one’s mother, that Shalmiyev confronts the world women and young girls live in. The flashbacks of her childhood in the Soviet Union are eye-opening, I find myself devouring stories about that world, so foreign to my own childhood. Against her father’s wishes she eventually goes back to Russia to find her mother. There are tales of abuse in here, and it’s gut-wrenching not just for the act itself but for the simplicity of such a life-altering transgression. Abuses on women and children are so casual in our world, aren’t they? Sometimes when you re-evaluate the past, things that you never questioned with your child’s mind send alarm bells all throughout your adult soul. Certainly what happened to her during her short time in Italy is haunting. This was an engaging memoir. Dislocation isn’t always about the physical body, it can be the soul and in Sophia Shalmiyev’s case it’s both. Her mother is her phantom limb that causes a constant ache. How do you make peace trying to understand mother as an archetype and compare you own, so deeply flawed, a crumbling cold statue on the pedestal of your memory? How is a woman meant to define herself, carve a self out of the discarded parts of her own mother when she was off limits to her? In the end, do we ever have closure, solid answers when chasing a ghost? Publication Date: February 12, 2019 Simon & Schuster

  11. 4 out of 5

    Olga Zilberbourg

    I would describe Mother Winter as an activist's memoir -- it's not enough for the author to describe the circumstances of her early life, her mother's alcoholism, her father's decision to raise her on his own, which meant to send her off to an internat (an overnight school), then his decision to immigrate and to take his daughter to the United States, where they had to start from scratch. Her ostensible goal, in writing this book, is an attempt to stop searching for her mother, the mother who ha I would describe Mother Winter as an activist's memoir -- it's not enough for the author to describe the circumstances of her early life, her mother's alcoholism, her father's decision to raise her on his own, which meant to send her off to an internat (an overnight school), then his decision to immigrate and to take his daughter to the United States, where they had to start from scratch. Her ostensible goal, in writing this book, is an attempt to stop searching for her mother, the mother who has disappeared and won't be found. But it is also an attempt to redraw the lines of what we expect of mothers, of who can be mother, and of how society fails women who become mothers. I related to this book deeply and it will stay with me for a long time.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mor Keshet

    I spent the day yesterday reading Mother Winter- I was captivated. The structure and pace that Shalmiyev conjures brought me into that traumatized, dissonant space that is the drumbeat of this book. Mother Winter has a singular rhythm, woven together in a dynamic, profoundly sad - and hopeful - fabric. I read sentences again and again - they will stay with me for years to come. A stunning, deeply thoughtful and inspiring debut.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    This book ripped my heart out over and over again and pieced it back together haphazardly shoving the fragments back into my body. While I cannot relate to most of the authors life, the bits about being a mother without a mother hit home the hardest. Excuse me, I feel compelled to read every last book cited in the bibliography. I would also very much like to drink too much with the author and talk music and books and talk shit.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Heather Brown

    So excited to have landed a galley of Mother Winter! This book reads like a dream where you're constantly reaching for something or someone, with a cold, lyrical beauty I want to fall backward into like it's a moonlit snowdrift. I'm lost and found each time I open it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve Hudson

    The sentences in this book are gorgeous and gutting. I'm so glad I read this book. It brought me closer to myself while bringing me closer to the wider world. It reminded me why I read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Traci at The Stacks

    A poetic and artistic memoir about motherhood and the lack of it. The author ties in art and history with her own story and it’s really smart in that way. It’s so of a unique take on memoir in a good way and a strange way. I sometimes got lost, but I think I would’ve liked it more had I read it instead of listened. Sophia doesn’t hold back and is feminist in such a beautiful way.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carley Moore

    I love this memoir. I finished it and cried. Shalmiyev does such a good job weaving together her childhood in Russia, her life in America, and the pop culture and feminist artists who have shaped so many of us. Get it today!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marian

    3.5 stars Intense emotion; a compelling, tangible rendering of a tough childhood in late-Soviet Union Leningrad; an extended meditation on the mother-child bond; elliptical, vignette-heavy structure; poetic writing. I found much of it powerful but the images/metaphors felt piled on a bit past my endurance at times and could have an alienating effect, though I admire the ambition and effort. I'm also not 100% convinced by the narrator's persona--something seemed vaguely false or lacking, not just 3.5 stars Intense emotion; a compelling, tangible rendering of a tough childhood in late-Soviet Union Leningrad; an extended meditation on the mother-child bond; elliptical, vignette-heavy structure; poetic writing. I found much of it powerful but the images/metaphors felt piled on a bit past my endurance at times and could have an alienating effect, though I admire the ambition and effort. I'm also not 100% convinced by the narrator's persona--something seemed vaguely false or lacking, not just omitted. Omitted but having left a trace of itself. Enjoyed it but with these few caveats.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth Bialosky

    I met Shalmiyev at one of her author talks and wanted to buy her memoir right after. She was so vibrant and passionate. I loved her hybrid memoir and felt like her descriptions through her thoughts was one of her brightest features.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    If you read any book this year, let mother winter be it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sara - thelookingglassreads

    What if the name of the town and country you were born in changed after you left? What if you lived in three different countries within a year right before you hit puberty? What if your native tongue had to twist to shout new sounds, trying to touch the top of your teeth to say the word teeth in front of a classroom of predictably cruel seventh-grade girls? What if the only word, the only name, the only place that remained constant was Ma? Mama, mama, mama, said so many times that it broke off a What if the name of the town and country you were born in changed after you left? What if you lived in three different countries within a year right before you hit puberty? What if your native tongue had to twist to shout new sounds, trying to touch the top of your teeth to say the word teeth in front of a classroom of predictably cruel seventh-grade girls? What if the only word, the only name, the only place that remained constant was Ma? Mama, mama, mama, said so many times that it broke off and became half of itself, just Ma, no breath left to give to a whole word, so you speak the end or the beginning only." Mother Winter, Sophia Shalmiyev Sophia Shalmiyev weaves a memoir out of her life without a mother, becoming a mother herself, and the longing, murky waters of her childhood. The words within this memoir will have me thinking about it in the days, months, and years to come. Not just from her dejected childhood and her scraping memory and search for her mother, but from her prose, somehow both elegant and full of grease and grit. Throughout Sophia's story, the themes of feminism and motherhood are strong, as well as her growing up in Leningrad with her father and step-mother, her mother always a blink away from her thoughts and actions. I find myself wondering, how did I ever go through the day without Shalmiyev's memoir? Such a shallow and reductive thought, but it's still there. Thank you so much to @simonandschuster for the gorgeous copy! #partner Trigger warnings for domestic abuse, sexual assault, abandonment, substance abuse.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jason Makansi

    Shalmiyev delivers fierce, precise, honest, raw prose that never reads like poetry. Every page demonstrates linguistic gymnastics. I hardly ever read memoir, but I am so glad I read this one.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cameron Hammon

    I was instantly riveted by this book. I love the structure-- sparse, poetic, vignettes. I was especially impressed by the construction of the child-narrator in the book's first half--she was alive on the page, vulnerable, curious, hungry for love. For anyone interested in the plight of the refusnik's-- Jew's who left the Soviet Union as refugees in the late 80s-- this is especially compelling, but what resonated even deeper with this reader was the narrator's longing for her mother, a longing th I was instantly riveted by this book. I love the structure-- sparse, poetic, vignettes. I was especially impressed by the construction of the child-narrator in the book's first half--she was alive on the page, vulnerable, curious, hungry for love. For anyone interested in the plight of the refusnik's-- Jew's who left the Soviet Union as refugees in the late 80s-- this is especially compelling, but what resonated even deeper with this reader was the narrator's longing for her mother, a longing that turns toward replacement figures as she gets older--sometimes lovers, sometimes writers, and artists. A beautiful book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    Beautiful memoir woven from poetic fragments

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marissa Korbel

    One of the best books I read in 2018. Complicated, lyrical, funny, haunting. Shalmiyev smashes.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Candace Morris

    I was on a train back to Seattle from Portland, sitting in the dining cart, writing, when my friend and fellow writer, Natalie Singer, author of California Calling: A Self-Interrogation sat next to me reading, "Mother Winter." She closed it after the first chapter, took a deep breath and said, "Fuck. That was the most beautiful first chapter of a memoir I've maybe ever read." Several months later, I picked up the book myself. That first chapter is indeed not only beautiful, it's necessary for gr I was on a train back to Seattle from Portland, sitting in the dining cart, writing, when my friend and fellow writer, Natalie Singer, author of California Calling: A Self-Interrogation sat next to me reading, "Mother Winter." She closed it after the first chapter, took a deep breath and said, "Fuck. That was the most beautiful first chapter of a memoir I've maybe ever read." Several months later, I picked up the book myself. That first chapter is indeed not only beautiful, it's necessary for growing the new lung you'll need to breath in the icy underwater of this story. A piece of advice to the unsuspecting reader: unzip yourself from the too-tight pants of a narrative arc and throw on your great-great-grandmother's house dress instead - that is, open your soul to poetry and cutting short paragraphs and a wielding of metaphor so thick and pervasive ("My chest holds a whale where only a goldfish could swim") that you'll wonder which way is up - like in space or ocean - a most welcome disorientation. "The universal lies in the specific," said Catharine Anne Jones in The Way of Story: The Craft & Soul of Writing. Because of Shalmiyev's courage of vulnerability and specificity of her experience - both being (un)mothered and mothering in cold and in heat - my own psyche felt free to surface long since quieted questions about my own mother, about my own mothering. The author gives the widest berth, a subtle permission to ask questions of this mother-life: what we've been given, what we take, and what we dole out. "Do I make my children cold when I leave this apartment to write, to get a drink with friends, if I'm hungover after a fun night out, if I lose my temper, or spend the night lying awake and going over a perfect day of inhabiting a studio apartment with nothing but books and a television and no kids around? Do they feel the chill of all the wide-open doors my mother left ajar within me? Am I freezing them out when I write down what my life would be like if I never had them?" How I thank the author for not caveating this with, "Oh! But I love my kids!" like so many women do - when they get the guts to call out how confusing and often unrewarding it is to have babies. We know you love your children - but what we want to know is - is it okay to also live for something else? Shalmiyev screams yes with a big, riot grrrl middle finger to caveats and apologies. And yet she doesn't read cold. Blood-warm coziness somehow sneaks in between the words and makes you feel safe, despite the horrors you are taking in. And at the end…"You stand up, a floating iceberg in the fog followed by your own little girl's steam, and begin to dry off…"

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I heard Shalmiyev speak on a Litquake panel. She seemed incredibly bright, integrated in her intellectual breadth and vision, so I bought her memoir. It is a demanding read; I came into it in fiction mode, but had to sharpen my focus throughout to stay with her. Despite that, I have the sense that I missed stuff. The book originates from a place more akin to poetry than to storytelling. Shalmiyev hops around in time; tense moves from present to past and back; paragraphs can be alternately short I heard Shalmiyev speak on a Litquake panel. She seemed incredibly bright, integrated in her intellectual breadth and vision, so I bought her memoir. It is a demanding read; I came into it in fiction mode, but had to sharpen my focus throughout to stay with her. Despite that, I have the sense that I missed stuff. The book originates from a place more akin to poetry than to storytelling. Shalmiyev hops around in time; tense moves from present to past and back; paragraphs can be alternately short and pithy or single, massively polysyndetic sentences. The memoir moves as thinking does, its narrative tied down not by time but by the writer's disciplined focus on following the internal narrative as it pulls her from one story/experience to the next, centered around an insatiable hunger to find her absent mother. Shalmiyev's mother, Elena, was removed from her daughter's life she she was six, and despite the presence of her father, stepmother and grandmothers, Sophia remained that abandoned child, overcome with patently unfillable yearning. While even as a child Shalmiyev knew the facts of her mother's absence, this knowledge could not mitigate the emotional fires that constrained her existence. The more she was driven to separate--emigrating from Russia at 11, learning to speak unaccented English by 14, powering through her education, sowing her wild oats, becoming a mother herself--the more the specter of Elena drove the emotional shape of her life. This is not a story of a triumphal conquering of difficult circumstances; instead it is a story of yielding to this inner conflict and, in fits and starts, with courage and fear, following it to the place it lead her. And Shalmiyev, it seems, still is on this journey; as with any life, there is no satisfying conclusion, only the reward of an honest quest undertaken with open eyes and deep appreciation of human imperfection. I expect I will be reminded of this memoir often, and I will reread it. A thoughtful and compelling read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Judy G

    I was very interested in the theme of her book of her missing mother and the pain and sadness and loss. She is from Leningrad where she lived with her father who is jewish and her christian mother whose name I forget. She also lived with her "stepmother" Luda. Her father Gabriel is the name she uses tho he has a few similar names in his language. Her mother was or is an alcoholic and her father took her to court as an unfit mother and Sophia had to choose her parent. It all happened when she was I was very interested in the theme of her book of her missing mother and the pain and sadness and loss. She is from Leningrad where she lived with her father who is jewish and her christian mother whose name I forget. She also lived with her "stepmother" Luda. Her father Gabriel is the name she uses tho he has a few similar names in his language. Her mother was or is an alcoholic and her father took her to court as an unfit mother and Sophia had to choose her parent. It all happened when she was very young. Then at some time her father got himself and her able to leave Russia since he was a Jew and had nothing valuable. Tho he was a psychotherapist with specialty in hypnosis. He tho was also violent to his daughter. they were poor and his daughter suffered from a young age no food no money to go to school.... what I observe as most missing was love and caring This book seems to me to be in two parts and the first part about her life in Russia and their early life in US as refugees and they lived for a time in Brooklyn. At some point in time Sophia goes to school ends up in Portland and marries and has children. She also returns to Russia when she has her US citizenship with a man lover to find her mother. This book is disjointed to me. Also I think she is disjointed some of this some of that and some of the this is not so good. I can relate to the subject of the missing mother so that drew me to this. Who she becomes is alien to me and I wish I could say I can grasp her way of life and her living. I do know she cares about her two children and about being herself a mother. Something vital is missing from this book and I dont know what it is that is missing Judy

  29. 4 out of 5

    Katy Go

    I long avoided memoirs because I wrongly assumed it required an unhealthy degree of self-indulgence to achieve one. While I'm glad to have been disabused of this notion, it was not by this book. I struggled hard with Mother Winter. I wanted badly to enjoy it but it was a start/stop affair the entire way through. I will say that I enjoyed the tender moments in which the author described her own parenting. The nods to the Olympia scene and descriptions of the tail end of Soviet Russia were also in I long avoided memoirs because I wrongly assumed it required an unhealthy degree of self-indulgence to achieve one. While I'm glad to have been disabused of this notion, it was not by this book. I struggled hard with Mother Winter. I wanted badly to enjoy it but it was a start/stop affair the entire way through. I will say that I enjoyed the tender moments in which the author described her own parenting. The nods to the Olympia scene and descriptions of the tail end of Soviet Russia were also interesting. But that was about it for me. This memoir worked best in the parts that most resembled a memoir. Otherwise, Mother Winter was an exercise in abjectness and the grotesque and at no point did those qualities further the prose. Same was true of many of the author's ruminations on feminism and psychology. I believe references should entice the reader to explore further but instead, I felt like the frequent references to fourth-wave feminism lacked context within the author's life, apart from being exposed to such things in school. I couldn't grasp what the various philosophies that she referenced meant to her. Instead, it felt like she listed certain schools of thought for the sake of maintaining her own credibility within a scene.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sierra

    So, in many ways this book is beautiful. It’s essays are lyric and move from one moment to another very deftly. However, the major reasons I’m docking this read is; Repetitive; I have my signature punch and rhythm that I’ll repeat again and again, even though each successive time it became less powerful And, while I dig explorations of motherhood, reproductive rights and experiences, and children’s relationships to their mothers I’m so TIRED of having this marred by a biological essentialism that So, in many ways this book is beautiful. It’s essays are lyric and move from one moment to another very deftly. However, the major reasons I’m docking this read is; Repetitive; I have my signature punch and rhythm that I’ll repeat again and again, even though each successive time it became less powerful And, while I dig explorations of motherhood, reproductive rights and experiences, and children’s relationships to their mothers I’m so TIRED of having this marred by a biological essentialism that doesn’t lend you the feminist credits you’re vying for in the book. In this vein, though a rich reading experience at some points, I’d be less surprised if this book had been published in the 90s or early 2000’s, instead of 2019.

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