With a mesmeric voice and scathing vulnerability, Shalmiyev peels her past down to its hollow core ... 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.
Shalmiyev has a lot to say... But what she says she says with so much I-am-woman-hear-me-roar abandon, it was all I could do not to avert my gaze out of delicacy for her, if not for myself ... [There are] are pointless, sloppy sentences, and they highlight the central problem of this book. Shalmiyev has plenty of genuine self-concern, but beyond herself she seems capable of thinking only in stereotypes; she can’t see beyond her own suffering let alone get her readers there.
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.
[Shalmiyev's] disjointed style evokes a childhood filled with turmoil between her divorced parents and her father’s emigration to the United States, with twelve-year-old Sophia in tow ... [Shalmiyev's] characters, as flawed as they may seem, embody human nature everywhere, whether it’s in Central Asia, the former Soviet Union, Europe, or the United States. As Shalmiyev ends her book, it is a reminder that life rarely turns out the way we expect as children, but rather is something we create for ourselves as adults.
Shalmiyev’s prose is raw and tough. It crackles on the page with a fireworks display of sensory details, one after the other at times, impressionistic and complete in its scatter of color ... There are times when the sound and rhythm of the author’s words and sentences mirror the abuse she describes, her language like being hit, and then the soothing apology that comes after, the reassurance that the child is loved, that it’s being done for their own good ... This book is [Shalmiyev] recounting of the whole gory, beautiful mess, and it is impossible to look away ... Reading the final pages, I could feel the narrative open its mouth and bite down on me, ferocious, magnetic...
Shalmiyev builds her compelling new book out of... fragments ... Shalmiyev will often relate a wrenching incident from her past—her father’s physical abuse, for instance—somewhat flatly, and then never return to it. In memoirs, trauma usually comes with a lesson; out of pieces, we’re supposed to assemble a workable whole. But damage, sculpted into a story, is still damage. Shalmiyev refuses to arrange it into something comforting.
Shalmiyev weaves an interlocking bricolage of abandonment, trans-national identity, feminism as salvation, and the many mothers who shape our psyches ... The prose of Mother Winter is rendered with perceptive, enduring grace.
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.
Bold if uneven ... Shalmiyev’s prose can be brilliant, but at times overreaches, and the book’s ragged continuity stalls any momentum. This ambitious contemplation on a child’s unreciprocated love for her mother trips over its own story, resulting in an ambiguous, unresolved work.