An act of resistance in Soviet-occupied Latvia leads to a form of banishment for a doctor and her daughter, who are sent to live to a remote area where they struggle to keep up their spirits in the face of an oppressive regime.
Every so often, you come across a book so beautiful that you ration the pages to extend it. Nora Ikstena’s Soviet Milk is most certainly one of these ... The atmospheric narrative infused with evocative imagery reflects both the physical state of Latvia under Soviet rule and the mental states of the protagonists ... Nora Ikstena’s autofictional tale, courtesy of Magita Gailitis’s smooth and sensitive translation, allows us into the minds of two women for whom we feel an almost instant empathy and who will remain with us for a long time.
This is not a comfortable novel; its determination to make symbolic capital of every event is as relentless as the events themselves are saddening. Yet its powerful evocation of an era that seems almost unimaginable now, but which could all too easily return if Europe fails to defend the hard-won freedoms of its nations, makes it a valuable, even an important one.
The story of the three women is told in short, poignant vignettes ... Even though the milk-imagery is a bit repetitive and sometimes comes across too heavy-handed, it aptly illuminates the political message of the book. But politics aside, the novel’s emotional core revolves around the mother’s longing for a better life and the daughter’s inability to save her. And Ikstena succeeds in making their pain palpable and real.