If food was not given the same role in the world as it held within me, I felt a sense of desolation spread. As though there was nothing there – no love, no history, no family. But it was probably the reverse. For many years, I felt that food filled my existence, but the truth is that it slowly but surely emptied it completely.
In Bread and Milk, iconic Swedish writer Karolina Ramqvist traces a girlhood through food – that which has the potential to fill her up, but also threatens to consume her. She remembers the tangerines eaten in gluttonous longing before her mother’s closed bedroom door; her grandmother’s rice pudding connecting her to a time when eating your fill was a luxury not readily afforded; the plate of pancakes left on the kitchen counter signaling that tonight would be another night spent alone.
From the carefully restricted low-fat margarine on a slice of bread to the dried grease stains on an oversized dining room table, we follow several generations of women and their daughters as they struggle with financial and emotional vulnerability, independence, and motherhood. When Karolina finds herself a single mother to a young daughter of her own, food becomes the way for her to show her love, but also to instill a complicated inheritance.
In this radiant memoir by one of northern Europe’s most notable literary stylists, a mother’s emotional absence is filled by the physical food she painstakingly provides; a daughter seeks a missing father’s approval through tomatoes sliced just the right way; and a grandmother fills the freezer with pastries like embraces for a lonely child.
The result is a gorgeous, meditative, and essayistic memoir about how what we eat is inexorably intertwined with how we love. Bread and Milk is at once wholly original and a natural extension of the brazenly intelligent and personal writing that has come to define Karolina Ramqvist’s authorship.