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[309] Purge – Sofi Oksanen

” What did anything matter anymore? Everything was shattered. All the trouble she’d been through! All the striving! Collecting fines from people for not having children! . . . every day of her life wasted by fear, the stink of Martin’s flesh, her endless humiliation, endless lies, endless writhing around in Martin’s bed . . . ” [4:345]

When a disheveled girl collapsed under the heath outside the house of an old woman living on the edge of the Estonian forest, Sofi Oksanen clues us in that it is no accident Zara, a young sex-trafficking victim pursued by the mafias, chooses to seek refuge in Aliide Truu’s house. In Zara’s possesion is a photo that proves her arrival is no coincidence. As the cunning and vigilant woman, suppressing her misgivings, offers the fugitive a shelter, they engage in a psychic game of suspicion and revelation to probe each other’s motives. As befit a noir or suspense story, neither of the women is what they appear to be.

A person has to have faith in something in order to survive, and Zara decided to believe that Pasha’s notebook was her ticket out of there. Once it was done, she would be free, she would get a new passport, a new identity, a new story for herself. [3:263]

The main thing was that once she married a man like Martin, no one could suggest that something had happened during her interrogation. No one would believe that a woman could go through something like that and then marry a Communist. [2:168]

The story is straight-forward and the goal is clear, despite the revelation of the family history that takes it back to the worst time in 1940s and 50s when Estonia was taken over and occupied by Soviet Union. The country was full of people abandoned to terrible violations and lasting humiliations—either at the hand of the Soviets or in their own human weakness. Jolted out of her peaceful life in the country some 50 years after the Soviet occupation, Aliide relives the past full of betrayal and pettiness, which culminated to a drama of rivalry and lust in her relation to her sister and brother-in-law. For love she couldn’t get, Aliide betrayed and sacrificed herself to the enemy.

Aliide’s hands didn’t tremble. A sudden, shameful joy spread through her chest. She was alive. She survive. Her name wasn’t on the lists. No one could bear false witness against her, nor against Martin’s wife . . . [2:187]

The plot of Purge presents an assertion for Zara’s sudden appearance in Aliide’s house. The underlying bond between them, which has warped Aliide and plagued her mind over the years, becomes the basis of her decision as to whether she will aid Zara or to get rid of her. Narrated through dual story lines, vacillating between 1940s and 90s, in multifaceted narrative forms, the novel, which can be unbearable to read at points when abuse is beyond graphic, explores the indelible impact of a time in Europe where to survive is to be implicated.

Translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers
400 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


8 Responses

  1. Thanks for reviewing this book. It got really great reviews in Scandinavia and I really want to read it. So great to get some inspiration and points-of-view from you.

    • I forgot to mention in my review: after reading The Girl Who Played with Fire, which partially concerned sex trafficking in Europe, I was reminded of this book that has been sitting on my bookcase. I’m glad I have picked it up again. It’s an engrossing read although sad.

  2. All Finnish-Estonian Oksanen’s books have been huge successes here in Finland, but most of all Purge. Purge actually strated as a play, and only later Oksanen turned it into a novel. There is also a movie to be made of the book.
    Oksanen is my absolutely favorite Finnish author. Her writing style is amazing.


    • Until Purge, I have never heard of Sofi Oksanen, who has demonstrated to be a very capable writer. I’m going to look for her other books, hoping the English translation is available.

  3. I have this sitting on my tbr shelf waiting to read. I’m glad to see that you enjoyed it.

    • I almost forgot about the book, which was a review copy sent to me earlier this year. Oksanen has a knack to work up the story with two very different narratives.

  4. Matt, Purge is first of Oksanen’s novels to be translated into English, but let’s hope that the the two earlier ones will be translated in the future.


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