This year the series of 3 short books to be published is called 'Home in Exile' and I was really excited to be sent 'Soviet Milk' by Nora Ikstena to review, the first Latvian author I've ever read and it is translated into English by Margita Gailitis.
The book alternates between a mother and daughter's point of view from growing up and living in Riga and the Latvian countryside under Soviet rule. Everything is shown to have two sides and each needs the other to exist; Life and Death, Mothers and Daughters, God and Science, Freedom and Imprisonment. There is even another side to the life-giving milk a mother should give to her baby, as she feels it has been poisoned by her (and Soviet rule) she deprives her daughter of it.
Latvia's imprisonment and silencing under the Soviet Union is paralleled in the banishment of the Mother to the countryside. She begins to withdraw from reality seeking solace in cigarettes, books and pills and the daughter is then also imprisoned by always being tied to her mother, at first having to grow up with her in the countryside and then when she is older having to return to visit her and trying to pull her back into reality.
Soviet Milk makes us examine how we are all living in multiple cages, from the emotional ones we create for ourselves to those imposed upon us through family, work, society, the government or country ruling over us. While these cages and boundaries may appear to help us to exist and survive as a society, individual freedom is still always hoped for and appears in-between the cracks; through a rebellious teacher, a midnight swim or a friends help, even a hamster seeks it and finally there is no escaping death which will release us all into an infinite freedom.
Despite the dark themes and unanswerable existential questions Soviet Milk throws up, I felt there was always an underlying sense of hope, while darkness will always be inevitable in life so will hope and light. Freedom will always be present on the horizon, in milk or in the earth.
Thanks to Periene Press and make sure you check out all of their other books!