Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

Posted August 14, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 2 Comments

Soviet Milk by Nora IkstenaTitle: Soviet Milk (Goodreads)
Author: Nora Ikstena
Translator: Margita Gailitis
Published: Peirene Press, 2015
Pages: 192
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Most people are aware that I am a fan of Soviet literature, reading about people living through political turmoil fascinates me. So I knew I had to pick up Soviet Milk. This novel explores the effects of Soviet rule on one person. This nameless woman attempts to live her life in Soviet Latvia and pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor. However the state has other plans for her. Soviet Milk chronicles her journey as the state deprives her of her profession, her identity, and her family.

This is my first Latvian novel, and I will admit to having a very limited understanding of the Baltics. However I have read my fair share of Soviet literature so I was prepared. While this is a novel very focused on one individual, it does spend a lot of time exploring the mother/daughter relationship. This nameless woman has to struggle through so much, due to an unfortunate incident with a soldier in St. Petersburg. Reflective in tone, the novel is constantly searching for the answers. Switching between the bitter tone of the mother to a more curious tone with her daughter. It is a constant struggle between trying to hide the suffering from her daughter and her daughter trying to understand the depression of her mother.

Motherhood and milk are a constant theme throughout this novel. As a reader we are in this constant fragile state as we witness attempts of protection, anger, curiosity and sadness between the two women. This is a complex look into a mother/daughter relationship that says far more about Soviet and Latvian life that we might realise. Having conversations about this novel with Latvian blogger Agnese from Beyond the Epilogue, I know there is so much more to explore with Soviet Milk. I hope with many re-reads that I am able to start to understand more and more.

I believe this is autobiographical in many ways, giving us a little insight into Nora Ikstena’s own life. Margita Gailitis did a brilliant job translating this complex novel into English. I read this during a particularly stressful time at work and this lead me to struggle through this novel. I have a great appreciation for Soviet Milk but I review this knowing full well that I need to revisit this novel. I think it is worth checking out and I have continually been thinking about what Nora Ikstena was trying to do with Soviet Milk but I had to add a disclaimer as I struggled through the reading of this one. Not the book’s fault, just picked up at the wrong time.

2 responses to “Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

  1. Like you, I am very fond of Russian literature (very!), and like you, I remain largely unimpressed by Soviet Milk. I don’t think it’s so much “the wrong book at the wrong time” as it is just an ineffective book overall. It was fine, but not stellar, which is unusual coming from Peirene Press.

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