I have been sleuthing my mother’s symptoms for as long as I can remember. If I see myself as an unwilling detective with a desire for justice, is her illness an unsolved crime? If so, who is the villain and who is the victim?

Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant–their very last chance–in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.

But Dr. Gomez has strange methods that seem to have little to do with physical medicine, and as the treatment progresses, Sofia’s mother’s illness becomes increasingly baffling. Sofia’s role as detective–tracking her mother’s symptoms in an attempt to find the secret motivation for her pain–deepens as she discovers her own desires in this transient desert community.

Sofia’s meandering ruminations lead us through Hot Milk, and sometimes we can flow along with her, and at other times, her ramblings are annoying and boring.

At the heart of the story, however, is the conflicted relationship between Sofia and her mother Rose. Does Sofia seem too enmeshed with Rose? Does she feel guilty because Rose was left by Sofia’s father? What is the meaning of Rose’s strange symptoms that seem intermittent and almost imaginary?

Then we realize that, with Rose at this new clinic in Spain, Sofia has an opportunity to go out on her own a bit and explore some of her hidden desires. She meets a strange young woman named Ingrid. Why does the somewhat pushy Ingrid fascinate Sofia so much? The fact of her aggressive behaviors that push and pull at Sofia take us through their “relationship,” and arouse some questions in Sofia about identity and desire.

I liked this excerpt:

“Am I self-destructive, or pathetically passive or reckless or just experimental, or am I a rigorous cultural anthropologist, or am I in love?”
Reconnecting with her father in Greece turns into an unsatisfactory few days, after which Sofia must now return to Spain and her mother…and look at what is left in her life. Will her mother’s condition find a diagnosis? Will Sofia be able to plan her own life, free of her mother’s control? 4 stars.



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