Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

Latvian fiction

Original title – Mātes piens.

Translator – Margita Gailitis

Source – review copy

Rather late getting to this one as I await the first title from this years Peirene selection I looked back and last year I hadn’t reviewed one of there books which is a great shame as I have covered most of there books from the first three in year one. Anyway, this is written by the Latvian writer Studied in Latvia then moved to New York to finish her studies. She on her return to Latvia set up the Latvian literature centre and started writing herself she has published over twenty books and has had two translated into English this is her first novel translated to English she also has a short story collection in English life stories is available still.

I don’t remember 15 october 1969. There are people who swear they remember their birth. I don’t. It’s likely that I was well positioned in my mothers womb, because the birth was normal. Not particularly long, or particularly short, with the last contractions coming every five minutes. My mother was twenty five, young and healthy. Her mental state, though was not so healthy, as I learned later.

I do remember , or at least I can picture, the golden, tender calm of October, alternating with forebodings of a long peri=oid of darkness. It’s a kind of boundary month, at least in the climate of this latitude, where seasons change slowly and autumn only graduallly gives way to winter.

The opening liunes as the daughter remembers the autumn month but not her own entering to the world!

I read this first last year and struggled to get into it and thus left it unreviewed but when stuck the other day with a feeling of nothing grabbing me I’d started half dozen books and got thirty pages in and lost interest. But this time I was really grabbed by the voice of the daughter describing her mother and then got the book the nameless narrators tell the stories in flipping narratives the daughter born in 1969 both mother and daughter born in the same month twenty-five years apart. The daughter growing under the Brezhnev regime her mother never feed her on the breast leading to her hating milk. Milk is a recurring motif in the book. The relationship is strained the, mother a tough woman in her story we see how she ended up in a small town a doctor but not allowed to [ratice in the field she studied which is birth and is a researcher on the effects on woman when she tries to help an abused wife and is banished because her husband was a ranking Soviet figure to be a simple country GP all this is told in her story the daughter only sees her mother now a broken woman she struggles to be herself her mother loves western books reads the poorly type books those Samizdat works will these two ever get what they want from their lives and even get to leave the village.

The river was warm as milk. Only late at night could it providerelief from the sweltering heat. The days felt interminable; the short night brought the balm of darkness. At the end of July the ambulatory centre was closed for a month. I began a long, lonely, senseless time. I lay naked in my shadow-filed room,trying to kill the nights and days.

A use of milk her as the description of the river.

I loved the unnamed narrators as their tale is not just a personal story but the tale of the whole under a regime where people could see their dreams destroyed in a single moment. The common theme in Peirene books over the years of the mother-daughter relationship, in this case, is even given a third fold as the state in Soviet times view its self as a mother and the milk they feed some of its citizens was bitter at times leads to  motif of milk from the mother not feeding the daughter milk  but to the daughter not having milk at school the theme of milk is recurring I felt a comradeship with the daughter not drink milk my whole life I get the hatred of this pure white liquid that maybe like its Soviet regime isn’t pure or white is just an emulsion of fat and water very apt for the regime !. I enjoyed this and it was a great intro to Latvian fiction as this is my first book from Lativa having reviewed books from the other Baltic states  I know have the last one covered by this book. It does what it says for the series and shows who even thou the two are at home they aren’t as there home is a  world they can’t get to under the soviet shackle.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Jan 28, 2019 @ 13:01:09

    It’s strange with books how this happens sometimes. Difficult to get into, put it aside for a bit, and then discover that it works after all:)

    Reply

  2. 1streading
    Jan 29, 2019 @ 19:15:01

    I can see why you might have found this difficult to get into, but it left quite a strong impression on me when I read it.

    Reply

  3. kimbofo
    Jan 29, 2019 @ 22:41:01

    I really loved this book… so powerful and heartbreaking.

    Reply

  4. Trackback: That was the month that was Jan 2019 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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