Soviet Milk

READ THE WORLD – Latvia: Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

A nameless woman tries to follow her calling as a doctor but then the state steps in. She, along with her daughter, are banished to a village in the Latvian countryside where she’s deprived of a career, her sense of self, and her relationship with her daughter. As her sense of isolation increases, will she and her daughter be able to return to Riga where the beginning of political change begins to stir?

Translated by Margita Gailiyis.

Soviet Milk is told from the alternating perspectives of an unnamed mother and her unnamed daughter between the years 1969 and 1989. During this time Latvia was a part of the Soviet Union and it’s clear from the outset how the state keeps a close eye on its people and the affect it can have on their lives. The alternating perspectives did through me a bit at the beginning as I didn’t realise that’s what was happening but as some of the passages were told from the two characters different points of view, I got the hang of it.

I enjoyed both the mother and the daughter’s point of view. It basically begins when the daughter is born and so you see her grow up, how she learns different things from her mother, and how she begins to see the restrictions placed on her and her family. When she’s a young child she is brought up by her grandmother who is also unnamed (nearly all the characters are unnamed and are instead referred to by their familial status), their relationship is very sweet and the time she spends with her grandmother and step-grandfather are moments of true childhood innocence.

After her mother’s medical career is dashed and they have to move away from the city and her grandparents, that’s when the daughter has to grow up as more often than not, she has to look after herself and her mother. Her mother’s struggles and depression are vividly realised, and the book is well-written enough that makes her actions sympathetic and not solely selfish as one might think.

Soviet Milk was an interesting insight into the psychological affects of living in your homeland when it’s occupied by an outside force. Previous books that I’ve read for the Read the World Project that have been set in countries during the time of the Soviet Union, have either been from a child’s point of view so they don’t understand the gravity of the situation, or its about characters who have just got on with everything. I think this is the book I’ve read where being a part of the Soviet Union had a real affect on the mental health of one of the protagonists. There was still the food shortages and secrets, but there was also the desperate need to be free which the mother had even when living in her own country.

Soviet Milk is a moving and poignant story about the love between a mother, daughter and grandmother and how the Soviet occupation can affect multiple generations. It was a compelling read even though each perspective was just a couple of pages long. 4/5.

Women’s History Month TBR and the Indieathon TBR

This TBR post is basically going to be one big month-long TBR but a subset of these books will be relevant to my Indieathon TBR. March is Women’s History Month and because I became aware of this sooner rather than later, I plan to focus on reading books by women this month. Each year I read a pretty equal split between male and female authors, but I always find it interesting to take a proper look as to what’s on my shelves.

Also in March is the Indieathon, which is a week-long readathon where the aim is to read books from independent publishers. This readathon is hosted by Ninja Book Box and it runs from Friday 8th to Friday 15th March.

In this big TBR post there will be far more books than I could possibly read during a month (though saying that I am going to making some long train journeys for work this month so that’ll give me more reading time than normal) and I’ll note which books are from independent publishers so those are the ones I might read during the Indieathon.

I have many unread books that are written by women but not so many unread books that are from independent publishers but, surprisingly to me, most of the books on this TBR are indie books.

Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid (translated by Adam Cullen), published by Peter Owen Publishers.
Mere Chances by Veronika Simoniti (translated by Nada Grošelj), published by Dalkey Archive Press.
A Fortune Foretold by Agneta Pleijel (translated by Marlaine Delargy), published by Other Press.
Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (translated by Margita Gailitis), published by Peirene Press.
The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell, published by Linen Press
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies curated by Scarlett Curtis, published by Penguin
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney, published by Titan Books

The first four indie books on my TBR this month are all for my Read the World Project. I have, at my last count, 149 countries left to read so it’d be nice if this month could give me a push with my international reading.

Set in the Estonian city of Tartu, Burning Cities follows two generations of the Unger family from the Second World War to the twenty-first century. Mere Chances is a collection of short stories that are said to be strange and about characters who are struggling to maintain their identities. Soviet Milk is about the affects of Soviet rule on one person, how a woman strives to become a doctor but outside forces stop her and even deprive her of her relationship with her daughter. A Fortune Foretold is a coming of age story about a young girl in 1950s Sweden who uses fortune-telling and prophesies to make sense of the world around her. The last indie book on my TBR is one I received from Ninja Book Box’s Summer Reading box last year; The Red Beach Hut is about the friendship between an eight-year-old boy and a man who takes refuge in a red beach hut.

I’m not sure which indie books are the ones I’ll read during the Indieathon specifically, as I’ve said before I’m very much a mood reader, but these books are both from independent publishers and by women, so I hope to read them this month.

All the books mentioned so far feel like they are serious reads so I’ve also picked up Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies it’s a collection of essays and writings from lots of different women from different walks of life, so it’s something I can deep in and out of easily. The last book on my ridiculously ambitious TBR is A Blade So Black. I thought it’d be a good idea to throw some YA in here and this is an urban fantasy story inspired by Alice in Wonderland and with a black protagonist.

These are all the books I’d like to read this month. Are you focussing on reading books by female authors this month? Or are you taking part in the Indieathon? There’s going to be Twitter chats and Instagram challenges so I hope they help me to keep on track. Whish me luck! If I read five of these books that’ll be good for me.