Montana Public Radio

Sophia Shalmiyev's Searing Memoir 'Mother Winter'

Dec 5, 2019

Sophia Shalmiyev wields her intellect and insight during a conversation about her lyrical, heart-breaking memoir, “Mother Winter.” Both the book and the conversation are a collection of Shalmiyev’s influences, from traumatic moments of her early years in Leningrad to the inspiring Riot Grrrl feminist movement. Shalmiyev speaks with authority and passion about mother loss, inviting listeners into a kaleidoscopic take on the immigrant narrative while offering possibilities for a more just future.

Mother Winter

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About the Book:

Born to a Russian mother and an Azerbaijani father, Shalmiyev grew up in the stark oppressiveness of 1980s Leningrad. When her father packed up for a new life in America, he took Sophia with him but left behind her estranged and alcoholic mother, Elena. At age eleven, Shalmiyev found herself on a plane headed west, motherless and terrified of the new world unfolding before her.

The book depicts in urgent vignettes Sophia’s subsequent years of travel, searching, and forging meaningful connections. She describes her tumultuous childhood in the USSR; her experiences as a refugee; the life she built for herself in the Pacific Northwest; and her cathartic journey back to Russia as an adult to search for the mother she never knew.

Mother Winter is a searing meditation on motherhood, feminism, displacement, gender politics, and the pursuit of wholeness after shattering loss. And ultimately, it is an aching observation of the human heart across time and culture.

“Mother is a circle—a complete and perfect hole.” From that void, 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." — The Paris Review

Sophia Shalmiyev
Credit Thomas Teal

About the Author:

Sophia Shalmiyev emigrated from Leningrad to NYC in 1990. She is an MFA graduate of Portland State University with a second master’s degree in creative arts therapy from The School of Visual Arts. Sophia is a feminist writer and painter and lives in Portland with her two children. Mother Winter is her first book. Visit her website at www.sophiashalmiyev.com for more.