Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (tr. Margita Gailitis)

a nutshell: Ikstena braids together two very moving accounts of growing up under the Soviet occupation of Latvia – one from a mother & one from her daughter – to portray the crushing weight of societal oppression/terror on families

a line“We were destined for a somnambulant existence and condemned to call it life”

an image: milk is a recurring symbol – at one point a teacher is rendered speechless by the mother suggesting her daughter’s hatred of milk may stem from the fact that she didn’t breastfeed so as to protect her child from the breast milk of a person who didn’t want to live (elsewhere the mother refers to it as the bitter milk of incomprehension, of extinction)

a thought: the daughter’s realisation that her struggle to connect her mother to life & light in this world would alway end in stalemate hit me hard as a profound comment on the impossibility of banishing another person’s demons

a fact: between the individual stories, this novella gives many insights into existing under “the Russian boot” in 20th-century Latvia, e.g. travel requests often met with netselesoobrazno (non-essential) which regularly prevented people taking trips abroad – even for family members’ funerals

 

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