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Soviet Milk - Nora Ikstena

Soviet Milk follows the life of an unnamed doctor in Soviet governed Latvia. Her narration is interspersed with that of her daughter, also unnamed. The story follows the mother’s battle with depression and her enforced exile to the Latvian countryside by the Government and the daughter’s struggle to show her mother reasons for living.


This is a short novel, and like all Peirene books, one that can easily be read in a couple of hours. Also like other Peirene books it is a no less effective and impacting because of its short size. The prose pulls the reader into the story, transporting them to an easily imagined Soviet run Latvia. There is a bleakness to the tale, one interspersed with the hope of youth, the sense of change that can be felt in the air as the younger woman grows. As she ages she comes to quietly question the norm of communist rule, seeking out renegades and those fighting the system without even realising it. Her mother, conversely, was once one of those who questioned the system but has now come to feel freedom from it will never been obtained.


The writing is descriptive yet paired down. There is a detachment from the narrative due to the lack of names, but yet that too lends an intimacy to the tale.


This is by no means a cheery story, however, the development of the relationship between the mother and daughter lifts the gloom, in a realistic, understated way.


Each time I read a Peirene novel I’m introduced to literature I would not usually have access to. It is eye-opening, informative and thought-provoking. A worth addition to the Peirene family.