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.
“Bread and Milk could be called a novel, an essay or autobiographical depiction – the genre designation plays a minor role. More importantly for me is that it is a book I read with a kind of sanctity, a little at a time, so as not to miss anything. The text feels so fragile yet so complete, so complex and deeply universal. /… / Ramqvist’s language is effortless and beautiful, fundamentally so simple and stripped down but so enjoyable, that there are times when I think she could write about absolutely anything as long as I can just sink into the seamless movement forward.”
– Hufvudstadsbladet (FI)
“Bread and Milk is unique and deeply celebratory of life, despite the problematic topic it explores. It has panache.”
– Dagens Nyheter (SE)
“Ramqvist writes hypnotically and with utter rhetorical control. Already on the second page hints are dropped that this thing with food, it’s surely going to derail. (…) Like the masterful writer Ramqvist is, she offers the reader no answers but rather encourages them to think for themselves.
The brilliance lies in the inconsolable ambivalence that the text conjures.”
– Nordvästra Skånes Tidningar (SE)
“Karolina Ramqvist’s book has actually changed my view of life. The reason for that is her suggestive, utterly original language. To be able to write states of crisis and emotional deprivation from grain and dairy products – that demands a great writer.”
– Expressen (SE)
“Ramqvist’s skill as a writer does not lie in her ability to neatly put the abyss into order, but rather in how she manages to depict the untarnished in the utterly boundless: the states that in and of themselves are neither wrong nor right, they just are.”
– Svenska Dagbladet (SE)
“Razor-sharp reflections of Sweden’s poverty era and its transformation into welfare state are woven together with food descriptions that are utterly steaming with culinary-erotic delight.”
– Aftonbladet (SE)
“The title is too simple, the book is so much more: a gripping coming of age story, an empathic story about motherhood, a loving portrait of a beloved grandmother, and a salient analysis of Swedish class society. Everything depicted through food. What you eat, how you eat, how you cook food.vIt is profoundly original and cements Karolina Ramqvist’s position as one of the most interesting Swedish writers of today.”
– Borås Tidning (SE)
“This book resembles nothing else I have read. When I was first confronted with it, I wondered how it would be possible to tell something essential about life by describing food. After reading, I weep like a hungry child.”
– Göteborgs Tidning (SE)
“Karolina Ramqvist’s book about a young girl’s problematic relationship to food is also a deeply original and rich chronicle of a family.”
– Norra Skåne (SE)
“In such an associative and winding story as this, it is impressive how Ramqvist manages to keep such a steady course. At times one is lead to believe that she is taking a detour, but with safe hand she steers us back to the dinner table, and even if she occasionally leaves the kitchen, its aromas are always present.”
– Västmanlands läns tidning (SE)
“The relationship between mothers and daughters appears to be an inexhaustible subject in prose. But when food enters the picture my interest is piqued.”
– Jönköpings-Posten (SE)
“Karolina Ramqvist excels stylistically in her narrative on eating disorder.”
– Norrbottens-Kuriren (SE)
“The exposure of this existential theme [about food] is the novel’s real strength. But there is so much more to it.”
– Barometern (SE)
“It is a monumental novel that Karolina Ramqvist has achieved, and for several reasons. She captivates the reader through all 333 pages without resorting to drama. (…) It is an artform that the writer masters; the clear and concise language.”
– Norrländska socialdemokraten (SE)
“Karolina Ramqvist experiences life through food, and this complex relationship – full of both love and shame – is depicted in this poignant text.”
– Nerikes Allehanda (SE)
“Karolina Ramqvist doesn’t reason or moralize around the subject of food, she merely depicts it. Everything becomes physical, palpable, all the while these people come to life and become increasingly clear as they are described in relation to their eating. (…) In other words, Bread and Milk is a very unusual novel, it doesn’t resemble anything I’ve read before. And the way in which this daring grip remains intact throughout the novel is connected to Karolina Ramqvist’s brilliant stylistic talents. She is simply a dazzling storyteller, and scenes such as the one with the rice pudding will not be forgotten by the reader in a long time.”
– Skånska Dagbladet (SE)
“While reading I am forced to reevaluate my self-perception as a person without food-interest. I am no gourmand, but for me as for Karolina Ramqvist, food is so much childhood. And memories. Food is what life attaches to, like Marcel Proust and his Madeleines.”
– Södra Dalarnas Tidning (SE)
“When Karolina writes about her grandparents and the journey they made in a country that went from one of the poorest to one of the richest, it is among the most beautiful depictions of Sweden I have ever read.”
– Gefle Dagblad (SE)
“Karolina Ramqvist writes in unsentimental first person. In a simple, beautiful and completely unique language she depicts a lonely, oftentimes worried girl’s upbringing and adulthood with food. Food that lures and frightens.”
– Västerbottens-Kuriren (SE)
“This is a book I enjoyed immensely.”
– Falu Kuriren (SE)
“I have never read someone who can describe with such precision what it’s like to eat a mandarin or how rice pudding feels in your mouth. But just as much, the book revolves around the relationships which occur around food, the formative experiences of childhood and the symbolic power of specific dishes. Ramqvist’s language is so detailed and stylistically on point that you feel it throughout your whole body – and awakens my own memories of food to life.” –Dagen Premium (SE)
“… [Bread and Milk] is more than a linguistically elegant and sharp analysis of the psychology behind eating disorders: it is also a depiction of the relationship between three generations of women.” – Vi Läser (SE)