The London Book Fair is taking place right now. (10 – 12th April 2018), which will be an incredible event. I am very much looking forward to hearing all about it from some of the brilliant bloggers and Authors that will be attending. #LBF2018 will be alive on Twitter and for those of us too far away to attend, this will be a glimpse into the fun.
As part of The London Book Fair, The Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (who are celebrating 100 year of independence) will be showcasing some of the unique contemporary voices and bringing the U.K some of their novels now translated into English and published in the UK.
I am very happy to take part in this ‘Baltic Books Blog Tour’ which will celebrate different Baltic Authors and a variety of content including Q&As, guest posts, extracts or giveaways. Take a look at all the other brilliant stops on this tour, where the Authors appearing at LBF, including the ‘Authors of the day’ Nora Ikstena, Mihkel Mutt and Kristina Sabaliauskaitė as well as Rein Raud, Jānis Joņevs, and Sigitas Parulskis will feature.
For my stop today, I am honoured to bring you an extract from Soviet Milk by Latvian author Nora Ikstena, translated by Margita Gailitis (Peirene Press). It took the Baltics by storm and has now published for the first time in English, and it considers the effects of Soviet rule on a single individual through the story of three generations of women.
Extract from Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena, translated from Latvian by Margita Gailitis (Peirene Press)
I don’t know how my mother and grandmother dealt with my mother’s disappearance at the time, but it was never mentioned. Throughout my childhood the smell of medicine and disinfectant replaced the fragrance of mother’s milk. These chemicals would hang like a cloud around my mother: there when she returned from exhausting night duty at the maternity hospital; still there when, after long hours of wakefulness, she caught up on sleep at home. Her handbag was full of pills, ampoules and various steel instruments. Later I recognized them as terrifying gynaecologists’ instruments. It was a macabre world. If my mother happened to be home at night, she would sit up smoking and drinking coffee, bent over mountains of lamplit medical books. Pinned above her desk were diagrams of wombs, ovaries, pelvises and vaginas from various angles and perspectives.
My mother knew nothing of the world beyond. She would pointedly close her door when the programme Vremya – ‘Time’ – came on television, with lisping Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev. She didn’t read the Riga’s Voice newspaper, for which a long queue formed on the corner of Gorky Street every evening. The lunchtime queue at the meat and dairy shop was equally long. You could buy the popular so-called doctor’s sausage and butter there – but she had no idea of this domestic world. Yet beside the mountains of medical textbooks lay a half-read Moby-Dick. It spoke of her longing for a life of the mind that remained beyond her grasp.
I don’t remember Mother ever hugging me much, but I remember her needle-pricked thigh, where she practised injections. I remember her in bed with blue lips the first time she overdosed, possibly as part of some medical experiment. I remember the smell of her dressing gown, the odour of the bitter tincture given before she was driven to the hospital. And I remember the corridor of the maternity hospital where I was allowed to meet her after night shifts. We would then head for an Aloja Street café and eat solyanka soup and kupati sausages, and she would add caffeine from an ampoule to her coffee. I also remember how our street seemed frozen in time, like a picture clipped from a different era and glued into today. Only the elegant types frequenting the races at the nearby hippodrome were missing. In their place, going home or to work, heads bowed, other kinds of people were hurrying towards Communism, their net bags filled with humble supplies: long loaves, bottles of kefir milk with bright green screw tops, laundry parcels wrapped in grey paper and tied with string.
The Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – will be the Market Focus for the London Book Fair 2018 (10th – 12th April).
Check out #BalticBooks #LBFBALTICS on Twitter to find out more and to join in the celebrations of 100 years of Baltic Independence. I’m excited to read more Authors from different cultures and with different talents and writing styles. If you have read any Baltic Author’s work that you loved, let me know in the comments?
And for those of you lucky enough to be attending The London Book Fair, have a great time and share the bookish love.