‘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 quivers 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 expression, any truth which disagreed with its own narrow definitions of it. The story follows a mother and her daughter; the mother’s life overtaken by alcoholism and depression, a daughter whose precocity and problems with authority dimly echo her own mother’s adolescence. Yet, despite their similarities, both exist in a vacuum from one another, unable to fully comprehend each other; the daughter unable to recognise the immense sense of unfulfilled ambitions of her mother and her inability to cope to exist within the prison cell of Latvian society; at one point her mother points out that her daughter’s pet hamster, which cannibalised its children not longer after they were born, may have done so because it was unable to cope with them living in a cage. Yet her mother fails to see that the freedom so long hoped to feel will be fulfilled in her daughter, instead she is largely absorbed with her own demons-that her literary heroes are Winston Smith and Captain Ahab is telling, both are individuals who feel weighed down by their sense of self-oppression and both are indomitable in escaping it.
However it is not so much the political or sociological aspects of ‘Soviet Milk’ which remains with the reader, although these are, of course, interesting; it is the little moments of beauty that Ikstena is able to intersperse into the novel; the pale moonlight on a cold winter night which imbues the atmosphere with an iridescent beauty, the fragrance of the moss on a quiet afternoon of mushroom picking-these are the moments which stay with the reader, the small moments between a mother and daughter whose relationship is often fractured and distant.