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Usā daba ar nāvi“ un citos Aizraujošs cilvēka tapšanas pētījums ar precīzi un krāšņi iezīmētu fonu Latvijas PSR no sešdesmitajiem līdz astoņdesmitajiem”Osvalds Zebris“Lai pasargātu Padomijas būrī dzimušo meitu no melnā nelaimības piena gudra māte atsakās bērnu barot Meita dodas mātei līdzi trimdā lai iepazītu un atkarotu māti dzīvei Tas izdodas līdz brīdim kamēr meita pati sāk slīkt nebrīves sakultajās nodevības duļķēs Apbrīnojama ir Noras Ikstenas prasme veidot oriģinālas romānu konstrukcijas”Inga ĀbeleRomāns tapis pateicoties Valsts kultūrkapitāla fonda un jo īpaši mecenāta Valērija Belokoņa un Baltic International Bank atbalstamGrāmatas mākslinieks Jānis Esīti. From their website Peirene Press is an award winning boutiue publishing house specialising in contemporary European novellas and short novels in English translation We only publish books of less than 200 pages that can be read in the same time it takes to watch a film We pride ourselves on publishing truly big stories in small packagesWe seek out the best of European fiction producing high uality first translations of European best sellers We work with international agents and publishers to bring our readers truly original books exposing them to new authors and unfamiliar worldsSoviet Milk comes to us from Latvia I have never before read a book that started life in Latvian It is ostensibly the story of a woman and her daughter It opens with each character relating the details of their birth and from there it alternates first person narration by the mother and the daughter This can be tricky as the two have very similar voices so it is not immediately obvious who is speaking especially as each narrator often relates stories about the other person I found one of the few male characters in the book helpful as he is stepfather in one narrative and step grandfather in the other and he is mentioned in most chapters He s a useful means of distinction In one narrative the mother s life gradually disintegrates and in the other the daughter gradually comes of ageThis is a book of repeating themes and symbolism The milk of the book s title plays many roles mother s milk a Milk Restaurant a compulsory drink for school children water referred to as being as warm as milk And there are other motifs that recurBut I think the book is about a lot than this At one point one of our narrators says I wanted to talk about our Latvia being mocked by the Soviet Union and Germany about refugees about executions and deportations to Siberia about the ones who remained and were silenced as we the third generation were already silenced I wanted to talk about my mother who lived in a desolate place in the country because she could not live two lives and could not accept a life of mockery as Latvia had been mocked I wanted to share all this but I didn tAnd this mention of the third generation is also significant as the grandmother figure is key to the story The comparison across three generations of Latvian life is an important part of the book At one point we read The large oval mirror should have shown me full length but I could only see half of me My hands were crossed over my chest At first I seemed to see my grandmother I had her face her prominent cheekbones humped nose grey eyes and high forehead Then the image in the mirror changed and I saw myself as my mother her eyes closed asleep And then I saw myself with a lightly glowing skin as if taken from a greetings card but nonetheless myselfAll three generations merged in a single image which seems symbolic of something the book is communicating about Latvian history although I am not uite sure how to explain thisThere are excellent reviews already on GR from Gumble s Yard and Paul and the comments in Paul s review about the translation to English are interestingAs I read the book I saw the story of three generations of women grandmother mother daughter and obliuely the story of three generations of Latvian history The mother s story is very sad The daughter s story is a story of growing up that at one point threatens to become The Dead Poets Society but fortunately only for a few pages At 196 pages I have to say that it would be a long movie that took the same amount of time as it took me to read this I m not a slow reader but I reckon it was a good three hours But that was three hours well spent as I thought it was an excellent and thought provoking story

review ´ eBook, PDF or Kindle ePUB Ñ Nora Ikstena

Mātes piens

Noras Ikstenas romāns “Mātes piens” aptver laika posmu no Otrā pasaules kara beigām un vēsta par triju paaudžu sieviešu likteņiem bet vēstījuma centrā ir 20 gadsimta 70 un 80 gadi Visu romāna tekstu caurauž atteikšanās – no vīra un tēva no sapņiem un iecerēm no darba un uzskatiem no draugiem un tiem kurus mīlam Šajā visu paaudžu sieviešu sāpju ceļā ļoti spēcīgs ir piedošanas motīvs Tas kopš mazotnes ir nepārtraukts uzdevums meitai lai turētu pie dzīvības māti kura apzināti viņai liegusi savu pienu lai neļautu mantot savas sāpes un izmisumu“Oficiālo vēsturi raksta uzvarētāji Patieso Latvijas dzimtu atmiņā glabātie notikumi izjustais un pārdzīvotais Nora Ikstena to aplieci. This seems like a good novella to read if you re interested in exploring the history of the Baltic States through literature It s about lives lived a daughter and mother under the final 20 years of Soviet communism a period not covered so often in other recently translated novels I ve encountered and it s one of the too small number of Latvian books translated to English But if you are already familiar with the history andor were alive even in the West to see it on the news the book or perhaps this English translation over explains the basics of events and general tendencies and avoids some specific vocabulary for example samizdats aren t called samizdats but photocopies of smuggled books It still includes some beautiful descriptions of local scenery and everyday items but it feels like a novel written with an eye to a mainstream foreign market or for young people in its home region Maybe these explanations were added in the translation but I d have expected Peirene Press to assume a greater level of knowledge than this in their audience perhaps the translation was done this way to make it palatable for sale to less boutiue y publishers outside the UK That would be understandable as novels about difficult mother daughter relationships a small subset of those also with references to milk in the title eg Deborah Levy s Hot Milk have been a recent publishing trend I m not sure that Soviet Milk stands out enough from these although perhaps the mother having a serious full time professional job a gynaecologist helps it to differ from all the books about mothers who were housewives who were unable to work or who did not identify themselves with a career There are though some experiences in Soviet Milk which don t get a lot of coverage in fiction and drama especially being a young carer and being in a lone parent family which has a decent income I didn t especially like the way that the story was presented and from a objective standpoint this is frankly petty I d noticed Soviet Milk described as autofiction shortly before I read it and I would rather have read this story presented as a memoir with the adult daughter s understanding and analysis sitting alongside events rather seeing things presented from the child point of view including incidents where a lack of wider knowledge and context underlay the apparent negative feeling eg Hamsters do sometimes eat their young this was well known at my primary school Latchkey kids were a common phenomenon in Western countries in the 1970s too and under Russian communism from its earliest days The lack of childcare whilst the mother worked was systemic rather than a personal failing A child doesn t experience such things in the aggregate yes but these understandings are part of the process of mature informed adult making sense of the past I often asked myself especially in the early part of the book whether it was framed the way it was as a literary device or because it reflected where the writer was at psychologically If the latter my criticism was particularly unfair Sometimes understandings emerged as the narrator grew up but I had already felt frustrated and irritable too often while reading the book and I would rather have read this material in a different narrative framework I usually find it contrived when characters in novels are very passionate readers and find books a means of survival it seems like a cheap tactic designed to get a certain type of reader on side when a lot of real people get solace in other ways however it also makes sense in the family context as the mother s obsession with literature probably contributed to her daughter becoming a writer and besides literature feels valuable when it is something genuinely difficult to obtain as it was under Soviet Communism than when there is a surfeitAnd whilst it isn t an issue that affects me personally there are some women readers who would find it a problem that the book symbolically euates breastfeeding with being a good motherThere were a lot of moments especially in the first two thirds of the book when I felt the book could have done a better job of explaining why characters felt as they did It was just assumed the reader would get things It seemed to be on an oddly surface level for a psychological novel About many of the situations and sentences there were uestions a counsellor would ask to probe further I want a memoir or autofiction to answer of those Although this silence could also be an effect of the setting of living under the Soviet system one had to keep some doors closed in one s head about Latvian independence personal feelings or their intertwining and the type of self reflection now encouraged by Western psychology was not a readily available tool so why would narratives about c1969 89 use it Perhaps it is also a uestion of the ultimate unfathomability of chronic severe depression to a person who only gets reactively depressed regardless of whether you grok it it simply has to be accepted that it exists and some people experience it and a child or teenager witnessing it may not understand it that way and also has plenty of other problems to deal with I wasn t totally convinced by the mother s first person narrative The voices were too similar especially given their differences in age in the daughter s earlier years and although asterisks always marked a change of narrator I sometimes forgot and would only realise a few paragraphs in that it was now someone different telling the story and I would skip back and re read with that context It didn t go into much depth in describing how the mother felt in being away from the city and not fulfilling her youthful ambitions She was living in what to many could seem like an idyllic location doing useful work with lower pressure than in an urban setting the sort of life of which great memoirs are made being a rural doctor with a great rapport with patients in a vanished world I had to try and extrapolate and remember that while that sounds idyllic to me now I d have felt exiled too if I d had no choice but to live in such an area much before the age of 35 she is only about 25 at the start But it s a psychological novel shouldn t it be saying what that meant to her Should the reader have to mess around with guesswork and projection Better for it to be a memoir in which the narrator says openly that she didn t understand such and such about her mother or she imagined her mother might have felt like But fiction has of an international market than memoir so if you are writing in a small language autofiction is a cannier choice As my irritation decreased a day or two after finishing the book it became easier to see a few positives The mother is presented as excellent at her job and worthy of respect for that It is absolutely not some kind of searing indictment of her as a person It shows without telling the paradox that her child gave her motivation to live and do useful work despite her severe depression at the same time that she wasn t terribly good or suitable as a mother although there are also many worse out there In a society where motherhood was not put on a pedestal she perhaps would have made a conscious decision not to have a kid The mother is an example of a sort of person known in psychological literature to be especially sensitive to conditions around her conditions which don t affect the majority that way It s previously been difficult to provide accessible supporting links for this idea but this recent review of a new book The Orchid and the Dandelion now makes it possible In Soviet Milk there isn t any of that romanticisation or overt association between mental illness and brilliance which is common in western literature including medical memoir see for example Kay Redfield Jamison The mother s bosses are instead puzzled by their coexistence in one person The mother s abilities academically and in bedside manner and the severity of her depression are both major features of her life but they are not seen as inevitably interdependent The background feelings about Communism and independence were particularly similar to those I ve previously encountered in Estonian literature eg Sofie Oksanen I guess this is inevitable given the similar circumstances and location of the countries and the shortness of this book not providing space to explore what is distinctively Latvian There are a couple of Latvian books I ve been thinking about reading for years High Tide by Inga bele and Flesh Coloured Dominoes by Zigmunds Skuji but Soviet Milk is the first time I ve actually got round to reading one For the first experience of reading a book from a country there was surprisingly little that felt new about it Although it would take than one novella to get a feel for a country s literature and its distinctivenessI am puzzled by the very high average rating for Soviet Milk It strikes me as a work similar to Gugu y by Wioletta Greg a short autobiographical or semi autobiographical book about a girl growing up in the later years of the Communist Bloc containing both lyrical descriptions and tough experiences one which is going to connect strongly with some readers but not be overwhelmingly special to others Yet Greg s book has an average of 379 In Soviet Milk there is material on the psychological repressiveness and occasional benefits of the Communist regime because the family was directly affected and because the writer is five years older but this subject had been documented in many novels before There must be something unusual about Soviet Milk within the context of Latvian literature and which I am missing It would be good to know background about itRead Jan 2019 review Feb 2019

review Mātes piens

Na skaudri tieši un līdz sirds dziļumiem uzrunājoši”Valērijs Belokoņs grāmatu sērijas “Mēs Latvija XX gadsimts” mecenāts“Triju paaudžu sieviešu meitas mātes un mātesmātes likteņu vijums ir kā cieši sapīta bize Tik cieši ka sāp matu saknes Veidojas maģiska sievišķā trīsvienība Dzīvība un nāve To vienlaicīgais skaudrums un maigums dziļi uzrunā gan reālistiskās detaļās gan poētiskos simbolos Mīlestība un naids To augstspriegums Ir laime lasīt darbu kur šie lielie jēdzieni ir mākslinieciski piepildīti jo tas gadās reti”Māra Zālīte“Šis teksts ir mezgls kuru Nora Ikstena raisījusi jau agrāk romānā “Dzīves svinēšana“ pirms septiņpadsmit gadiem stāstā “Kl. Re read following its longlisting for the 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize and shortlisting for the EBRD prize This book was published by the UK small press Peirene Press a boutiue publishing house with a traditional commitment to first class European literature in high uality translation Perhaps what is most impressive about this book is its origin certainly the first Latvian novel I have read and I expect one of the few to have been translated into EnglishAs with all Peirene novels the book opens with a uote from the founder Meike Ziervogel explaining the book and implicitly her reasoning behind publishing it In this case to uote it in full At first glance this novel depicts a troubled mother daughter relationship set in the Soviet ruled Baltics between 1969 and 1989 Yet just beneath the surface lies something far positive the story of three generations of women and the importance of a grandmother in giving her granddaughter what her daughter is unable to provide love and the desire for lifeThe book opens with each character recounting their birth the daughter in 1969 9 months after Jan Palach s self immolation in Prague the mother in October 1944 the month when the Russian forces liberated Riga from the German occupation Thereafter the book has alternate first party sections written by the two of them although often they will continue to narrate the same scene or say the daughter will say what her mother is doing or saying further I found it hard to distinguish between the voices or at least the translated voices of the two characters which seemed a weakness to the book given their very different generations and charactersA clear milk theme runs through the book but at times I felt it was overlaboured and unnatural at least in English for example the water of a river in Summer is described as warm as milk which really did not work for me and I still have no idea what Jesse stop fussing We re on the Milky Way playing dipping our legs in until our feet disappear really is meant to signifyI understand from Paul s review of this book that there is a chance that this translation may have been deliberately condensed to fit the Peirene housestyle described by the TLS as Two hour books to be devoured in a single sitting literary cinema for those fatigued by film and to be honest if this is the case then I think the novel was all the stronger for it I felt I was already struggling to be interested the Latvian poetry and Soviet songs which were simplified or condensed in this translation I found some of the side characters in the book a hamster which eats its own children and a hermaphrodite odd and rather over engineered imagery for the situation of the two main characters The book also seems to rely far too freuently on dreams to convey character development and feelingWhere the book I feel succeeds best is in the excellent insight not just into Latvian society but into how the effect of the Soviet occupation and the complexities of the impact of the Great Patriotic War on Latvia played out across different generations The grandmother scarred by her own history both her first husband s deportation and the complex past of her new husband once a soldier in the Great Patriotic War both his service in the guard of Latvia s president and his brother s voluntary enlisting in the German army were obscured by this illustrious background effectively keeps her head down at least when not in the privacy of her own home for many years She urges the mother to be an active member of the Communist youth organisation a honourable and faithful young Soviet citizen The mother reacts the opposite within me blossomed a hatred for the duplicity and hypocrisy of this existence We carried flags in the parades in honour of Communism while at home we crossed ourselves and waited for the English army to come and free Latvia from the Russian boot a bitterness which turns into despair and lethargy after her promising career as a doctor falls foul of the Soviet authorities in Leningrad The daughter meanwhile is initially na ve about the history of her own country uncomprehending of her mother s despair and resignation initially ignorant of her grandparent s secret patriotism but overtime develops her own na ve and optimistic pro freedom views which are shaken when she is force to denounce a liberal teacher but which still allow her to greet with joy the loosening of Soviet Power and the fall of the Berlin wall which ends the bookOverall certainly an interesting book full of many faults which if it were in English would make it a below average literary novel but redeemed by the insight it gives into a different society


10 thoughts on “Mātes piens

  1. says:

    It’s really exciting seeing the international book community experiencing a surge of interest in Latvian literature I’m aware that there is a vibrant literary scene in Latvia but translations of new Latvian fiction are slow in making their way to the West So I was thrilled to read “Soviet Milk” by establ

  2. says:

    This seems l

  3. says:

    'Soviet Milk' is a novel which mixes despair with a kind of wistful beauty; the claustrophobia of Soviet Latvia is combined with the wistful ethereal beauty of the Latvian countryside; a country in which the uivers of moon light on the softly set snow are off set by the brutality of the regime which sought to crackdown on any sort of express

  4. says:

    Longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2019 I don't have time to write a lengthy review but fortunately Antonomasia Neil

  5. says:

    Re read following its longlisting for the 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize and shortlisting for the EBRD prize This book was published by the UK small press Peirene Press a boutiue publishing house with a tr

  6. says:

    Longlisted for the 2019 Republic of Consciousness PrizeThe judges' citationThis is classic Peirene Press a short intense novel that seems to co

  7. says:

    From their website Peirene Press is an award winning boutiue publishing house specialising in contemporary European novellas and short novels in English translation We only publish books of less than 200 pages that can be read in the same time

  8. says:

    Why would a mother refuse to bond with or breastfeed her baby?Milk is a recurring motif in this harrowing and evocative ac

  9. says:

    35 stars

  10. says:

    Nora Ikstena’s Soviet Milk is a powerful novella that explores motherhood the freedom to pursue your calling and life und

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