Tag: Nora Ikstena

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.


Distracted by Other Books

Posted July 4, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in June 2018

Being able to reflect on my reading month is one of the reasons I do these wrap ups. It is surprising how much my perception on my month is different to the reality. Like last month, I thought I had a slow reading month, but completing eight books is amazing. I have been trying to slow down my reading to focus on the reading I am doing and I am sure I am doing just that. However, the fact that I finished so many books makes me thing otherwise. We have been housesitting for the past few months and this affected my reading drastically but in reality, not so much.

I started of this month with August by Romina Paula. I originally wanted to read this book because I have been into Argentinian literature at the moment but since it was also translated by Jennifer Croft, it had to be read. As you know, Jennifer Croft translated Flights from the Polish which went on to win the Man Booker International Prize. August was a vastly different novel and while I enjoyed it, it was not the experience I expected. This combination of grief and nostalgia made for an interesting narrative. One I hope to explore in a review soon. Longlisted for the BTBA award, I was interested in trying something from this prize that is a relatively new discovery for me. Also, there is something about all the books being published by Feminist Press the appeal to me. It seems to be a lot of women writing dark and gritty literature that deal with femininity and the treatment of women in their own countries.

I seem to be dedicating some time to crime novels lately, this month it included In the Darkness by Karin Fossum and The Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette. I found In the Darkness pretty generic and I am still struggling to find some Scandinavian crime that I enjoy. I love noir style novels so I thought Nordic noir would be the perfect choice. I am very particular about crime novels and turns out that Jean-Patrick Manchette fits my taste perfectly. While The Gunman was not amazing, I was able to test out his writing style and discovered it was a perfect fit for me. I read The Gunman because it was the only Manchette in my library, now I plan to pick up some of his better known novels. The Gunman has been adapted into a movie starring Sean Penn, but I do not think I will watch it, it feels very B-grade.

I also managed to do some re-reading this month. Picking up both The Possessed by Elif Batuman and The Shadow of the Wind. I was not a fan of The Possessed originally but I could not remember why. It seemed like a book that would suit me perfectly, as it is a book about Russian literature. While I did enjoy it a little more the second time around, it turns out that I felt this way because I never really understood her literary criticism and she never took any time to explain it. For example, I do not know how Batuman connected Anna Karenina to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it feels like a stretch because it never was explained. I had the opposite reaction to The Shadow of the Wind where I loved it the first time but not so much this re-read. I have grown so much as a reader and have found what I love and hate in literature, so re-reading this novel, I discovered it lacked the depth that I crave. I will re-read the other books in the series and eventually finish off the series but I am in no rush.

I do not want to talk too much about Soviet Milk because I still feel like I am piecing together my thoughts. It was a great read, but work was so busy at the time, I found myself lacking focus. I could only read a few pages at a time before I needed to put it down. I want to re-read the novel because I think there is so much to gain from this book, so maybe I will just reserve my judgement until I have read it again. Also, I am unsure how I feel about The Order of Time, it think a lot of the science was well over my head. Carlo Rovelli has given me a lot to think about and he has challenged the how I think about time, so maybe the book has had its intended effect.

June was the month of first for me, my first time reading Manchette, but also my first time reading the great authors Juan Gabriel Vásquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. The Sound of Things Falling was a great novel and I loved Vásquez’s writing style. This is the type of novels I love to read and it reminded me a little of the style of Bolano. While Llosa had a great writing style with his novel The Neighborhood, I felt conflicted about my feelings. So much so, that I have not been able to finish the book yet. Firstly, the sex scenes in this book are so cringe worthy I struggled to get through them, but also his treatment of LGBTQIA characters felt creepy. The lesbian relationship was such an interesting part of the plot, but it often felt more like the author fantasising about them having sex rather than focusing on the relationship. There is so much political intrigue going on in the background, it was a shame that all this was ruined when it came to the sex, which unfortunately was a huge part of the plot and therefore happening all the time.

I am very pleased with the way this month turned out, as stated in last month months wrap-up, I was housesitting which meant I was not distracted by other books. I only had access to the books I had with me. I will be finishing up The Neighborhood this month as well as Purge by Sofi Oksanen. I have no idea what I will be reading next, probably La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono, They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen and The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson but you never know, I could be distracted by the other books on my shelves. Also, I plan in participating in Spanish and Portuguese Literature Month this month and then Women in Translation month in August. I hope this will motivate me to blog more. I have so many books I want to review, and I want to get back into a habit of writing more frequently. So, fingers crossed that July is the month that gets me writing again.

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Distracted by Other Books

Posted April 3, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in March 2018

I live in a city that often does not get much rain. So when we get two weeks of constant rain it is a rare treat. There is nothing better than curling up in bed with a cup of tea and a good book, while thunder and lightning is raging outside. I was able to spend those two glorious weeks reading Frankenstein in Baghdad. Most people know about my obsession with Frankenstein, the book that literally changed my life. Normally I am apprehensive about any take on this classic novel but Ahmed Saadawi was able to deliver something sensational. His take on the classic was able to compare the tale with post-invasion Iraq in a unique way. Since it has been two hundred years since Mary Shelley’s novel, I cannot help but think about revisiting the book once again. Oxford World Classics did send me a beautiful hardback edition, so a reread is in my very near future.

Thinking about Frankenstein got me thinking about other books that have helped shape my life, which obviously leads me to my obsession with Russian literature. The Anna Karenina Fix seemed like the perfect bibliomemoir for me. As someone with a love for Russian lit, I found myself easily drawn to Viv Groskop’s memoir. One day I will write about all those books about books that I love and I have no doubt The Anna Karenina Fix will make that list. It made me want to reread so many of my favourites and then the ones I have missed, then go back to this book and read it again.

I am the type of reader that reads to learn about the world, to experience different cultures and explore new ideas. However there are times when I need to just switch off and read some palette cleansers. For me, this is crime fiction, but I am very particular about what I like. For the most, I will read an entire crime novel even if I was not enjoying it. Luckily there was something about Babylon Berlin that I loved. This is the first book in the Gereon Rath series and what drew me to this book was that it was set in 1929 Berlin. So in the background of this crime investigation we see Berlin as it changes, with the fears of communism and the newly emerging Nazi Party. I cannot help but compare it the Bernie Gunther series. While I have only read March Violets, since Philip Kerr passed way this month, I think I need to return to this detective and read The Pale Criminal. I did also read The Spellman Files at the suggestion of everyone who compared it to Veronica Mars.

The crime fiction I am attracted to the most is the old pulp era, the stuff from the 1920s to the 1940s. There is something about that writing, it is sharp and to the point, but still remains beautiful. Even forgotten classics like The Seven Madmen from Argentina seem to adopt that same style. The Seven Madmen is the kind of book that will remain with me for a long type and I am tempted to reread it, but I will get distracted by other books. After reading this book, I felt like staying with Argentinian literature and I was able to do that with the next book I read, Die, My Love.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced and like many of my fellow book nerds, I was excited to see what would make the list. I had read Frankenstein in Baghdad but it was the only one on the longlist I have actually read. I would love to read the entire longlist but time and availability is always a factor. My library only had four of the thirteen from the longlist but I owned one already. So I thought I would make use of a Kindle Paperwhite to help. I have often struggled to get into ebook reading but the accessibility was my only hope to read the longlist. I will always prefer physical books, but maybe I will be convinced to read more ebooks. My constant distractions with other books and an ereader might be a deadly combination.

Obviously the first book I read was Die, My Love. The fact that it was Argentinian literature, made this an easy choice. This was such an affecting read, I will have to get a physical copy. After completing this novel, all I wanted to do was stay in Argentina forever. I think I could live a happy life only reading Argentinian lit, it has similarities to Russian literature but still feels very unique. I am also pleased to see a strong literary scene of Argentinian women; from Die, My Love, to books like Things We Lost in the Fire, Fever Dream and Savage Theories.

Unfortunately there were a few books that followed that I was not able to connect with, and left me unmotivated to read. Two were Man Booker International Prize longlist picks, The Dinner Guest and The Stolen Bicycle, but the third was this month’s bookclub pick. It was a modern take on Don Quixote set in India called Mr Iyer Goes to War and all I could think was about rereading Don Quixote. My problems with The Dinner Guest and The Stolen Bicycle were as followed; the first felt too similar to another book, while the later just went overboard with the one topic and that frustrated me.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist left me pondering translations. I love reading from around the world, to the point where I am considering turning it into a podcast. I discovered I do not know as much about translation theory as I would like. Maybe I need to explore some Walter Benjamin or as I discovered, Edith Grossman (who translated Don Quixote) wrote a book called Why Translation Matters. Do I need to know another language to explore translation theory in great detail? I know Umberto Eco also has a book on translations too, it is called Experiences in Translation. This might be another rabbit hole to go down in the new future.

I managed to have a very productive reading month, I finished it off with my second László Krasznahorkai book, which was his short story collection The World Goes On. This made ten books for March, and I am presently surprised, especially since I had three books that were a struggle. The only thing I currently have on the go is The 7th Function of Language, which is another book from the longlist. At this rate, I may be able to read the entire longlist before the prize is announced in May. However the availability of the last seven books is the major factor. I own two and waiting on one from the library, so it is becoming more of a possibility. I am having a hard time guessing what will make the shortlist, so I have delayed a few that I think might be on the list. That way I can still remain in the conversation.

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