Gemlike ... Did her growing disillusionment with the Communist Party put her at risk, or did she flee for personal or professional reasons? It’s a tantalizing thread that reaches a somewhat muted conclusion. But Meadows is less interested in mystery and resolution than in the enigmatic force that drives the gymnast ... This is a familiar narrative for elite athletes and for the novels that explore their world. Winterland is no exception, moving us through all the well-worn tropes (the perilous injury, the punishing coach). But these tropes still have the power to feel both eternal and grand, as they do here. Though it covers 25 years, three continents, the collapse of the Soviet Union and myriad changes in the sport and in the world, Winterland is a novel of intimacies in small spaces ... With every cracking bone and snapped ligament, we long for Anya’s success even as it imperils her. We long for her rescue even as we both know that success means buying only a little more time before the end.
Painful story ... As in many novels built around a sport, Winterland has its sports related climax ... Unlike many typical moments, this one is not the great triumph against all odds. It is much more complicated and satisfying than this cliche ... The post-Olympic story is perhaps the weakest part of the novel and seems, at times, forced and manipulated. There are some interesting turns here, but not easily believed even while they offer closure to Anya’s story. It may have been better to let the loose ends remain loose. Regardless of this ending, Winterland is a rich and powerful novel in which Rae Meadows displays her talents and her subtilty as she captures the essence of sport, the power of ambition, and the menacing hand of totalitarianism whether wielded by the state, society, or individuals.
Meadows skillfully articulates the risks and rewards of high-level competition, the divine feeling of being chosen to represent one’s country, and the fragility of the human body ... Winterland is a look back at a generation of Soviet talent, ambition, and sacrifice, inside and outside the gym.
Quoting aptly from the poems of Marina Tsvetaeva and liberally slinging Russian vulgarities along with gymnastics lingo, Meadows (I Will Send Rain) captures the risks so recently headlined by Simone Biles and other champions in her fifth novel ... Gymnastics is the fourth actor in the plot, as malign forces darken Anya’s love of the sport. A haunting allusion to Stalin’s real-life daughter, Svetlana, indicates the deep research supporting the novel.
Absorbing ... Writing with a confidence based on excellent research, Meadows vividly depicts the Soviet training system—and its abuses—without taxing readers with too many technical terms ... If there's a flaw in this smoothly paced novel, it's the lack of conflict motivating its characters to action. Although well drawn, they are passive figures living in a society that allows for no individual agency. Also, the book’s final section covering the collapse of the Soviet Union feels rushed. An enlightening portrait of a now-vanished world.