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 recounts her emotional journeys as an immigrant, an artist, and a woman raised without her mother. Depicted in urgent vignettes that trace her flight from the Soviet Union and back again to find the mother she never knew, Shalmiyev’s story is an arresting, impassioned account that is equal parts refugee-coming-of-age tale, feminist manifesto, and a meditation on motherhood, displacement, gender politics, and art. Her years of travel, searching, and forging meaningful connection with the worlds she occupies culminates in a searing observation of the human heart and psyche's many shades across time and culture.