Join us as Yelena Lembersky and Sophia Shalmiyev discuss their respective memoirs, Like a Drop of Ink in a Downpourand Mother Winter, both of which ruminate on political antisemisim in and flight from the Soviet Union, the power of art, and the lasting bond between mother and daughter. The event will be moderated by Helen Fremont, author of The Escape Artist.
This event is free and open to the public. Registration is required.
Like a Drop of Ink in a Downpour is a mother-and-daughter memoir about three generations of women and their fight to leave Soviet Russia. A mother is a dissident, a refusenik, and a prisoner in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) in the 1970s and '80s. Her daughter, eleven years old, is left without a family. A grandmother is in the USA, waiting for her daughter and granddaughter and not knowing if she would ever see them again. "I am fine," the three of them write to each other in their letters.
Told from the dual points of view, this memoir shows the reality of life in the Soviet Union, giving an insider’s perspective on the roots of Putin’s Russia. It is also a coming-of-age story, heartfelt and funny, a testament to the unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters, and the healing power of art.
“Unsparing, with devastating clarity, this extraordinary mother-daughter memoir . . . captures the fierce devotion of three generations of women to each other. . . and resilience through brutal imprisonment, painful family separations, and challenging obstacles to immigrate to the United States as Russian Jews. The honest, lyrical coming-of-age narrative intersects with the unflinching candor of a Soviet mother’s perspective, which together form an unforgettable story of heartbreaking truths and tender memories.”
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.
“With a mesmeric voice and scathing vulnerability, Shalmiyev peels her past down to its hollow core: the vacancy left by her absent mother.”
A luminous and profound new memoir from the author of the critically acclaimed national bestseller After Long Silence, The Escape Artist has been lauded by New York Times bestselling author Mary Karr as “beautifully written, honest, and psychologically astute. A must-read.”
In the tradition of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and George Hodgman’s Bettyville, Fremont writes with wit and candor about growing up in a household held together by a powerful glue: secrets. Her parents, profoundly affected by their memories of the Holocaust, pass on to both Helen and her older sister a penchant for keeping their lives obsessively compartmentalized, and a zealous determination to protect themselves from what they see as danger from the outside world.
She delves deeply into the family dynamic that produced such a startling devotion to secret keeping, beginning with the painful and unexpected discovery that she has been disinherited in her father’s will. In scenes that are frank, moving, and often surprisingly funny, Fremont writes about growing up in such an intemperate household, with parents who pretended to be Catholics but were really Jews—and survivors of Nazi-occupied Poland. She shares tales of family therapy sessions, disordered eating, her sister’s frequently unhinged meltdowns, and her own romantic misadventures as she tries to sort out her sexual identity.
“By the time Helen Fremont returned me to my own life at book’s end, I found it had been both shaken and expanded by hers. Isn’t this why we read?”
Yelena Lembersky, an American émigré author of two books, essays, and stories that appeared in Forward and Cardinal Points Literary Journal. Yelena grew up in Leningrad and immigrated to the USA in 1987. She holds degrees in art and architecture from MIT and the University of Michigan. She is a granddaughter of Felix Lembersky (1913-1970), a prominent Soviet Jewish artist and the creator of Babyn Yar paintings. She lives north of Boston.
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.
She lives in Portland with her two children. Mother Winter is her first book.
(Photo credit: Thomas Teal)
Helen Fremont’s new memoir, The Escape Artist, published in 2020 by Simon & Schuster, was selected as a New York Times “Editor’s Choice” new book. It was also chosen by People Magazine as a “Best New Book” in 2020. Her nationally bestselling first memoir, After Long Silence, (Penguin Random House) was selected by The New York Times as a “New and Noteworthy” book in 2000. Her works of fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, The New York Times,Ploughshares, and The Harvard Review.
A graduate of Wellesley College, Boston University School of Law, and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, she has been a teaching fellow at both Bread Loaf and the Radcliffe Institute. She was a Scholar in the Women’s Studies Research Center Scholars Program at Brandeis University and worked as a public defender in Boston, where she now lives with her wife.