Thursday, June 10, 2010
Book Review: Purge by Sofi Oksanen
Soon to be published in twenty-five languages, Sofi Oksanen’s award-winning novel Purge is a breathtakingly suspenseful tale of two women dogged by their own shameful pasts and the dark, unspoken history that binds them.
When Aliide Truu, an older woman living alone in the Estonian countryside, finds a disheveled girl huddled in her front yard, she suppresses her misgivings and offers her shelter. Zara is a young sex-trafficking victim on the run from her captors, but a photo she carries with her soon makes it clear that her arrival at Aliide’s home is no coincidence. Survivors both, Aliide and Zara engage in a complex arithmetic of suspicion and revelation to distill each other’s motives; gradually, their stories emerge, the culmination of a tragic family drama of rivalry, lust, and loss that played out during the worst years of Estonia’s Soviet occupation.
Sofi Oksanen establishes herself as one the most important voices of her generation with this intricately woven tale, whose stakes are almost unbearably high from the first page to the last. Purge is a fiercely compelling and damning novel about the corrosive effects of shame, and of life in a time and place where to survive is to be implicated.
Wow. For the first time in a long time I can honestly say that I am proud about being Finnish and proud about the fact that I speak language such as Finnish as my mother tongue.
After winning the Finlandia Prize (the most prestigious literary award in Finland, awarded to the best fiction book, best children's book and best non-fiction book, 30,000 euros) Sofi Oksanen has been everywhere. Literally. She is in the news, in the newspapers, everywhere. Probably a week after she won the prize I got totally annoyed of her and her praised novel, Purge (Puhdistus). I did not know what the novel was about, and I did not even want to know.
Like you can probably guess from my previous paragraph, I had a huge amount of negative expectations towards this novel. I visit the bookstores weekly and every week this novel has been on the "most sold" shelf. Now when I broke my ankle and I am just spending time at home, I told my mother to bring me it from the library. I was too curious to pass it.
I am so happy that I overlooked my negative taughts and read this book. All the way from the beginning of the book I knew that I would like it. The way Oksanen uses the Finnish language (yes, I read this in Finnish, which is really rare, since I mostly read in English) is amazing. I did not even know you can use it like that without making it hard to understand. I would love if you would have a change to read this in Finnish too, but probably the translation is pretty good as well. I saw the English copy of this novel at the local bookstore, maybe I buy it at some point and read it since this is definitely one of those books I will want to go back to.
The Purge tells a story through the eyes and thoughts of three different characters. Aliide Truu is a elderly woman living alone in the Estonian coutryside. One day she notices a body of a girl laying on her yard. The girl, Zara, is in need of help. She has left from her home to the West, to Germany, in hope of a money for studying. The work that was promised to her turned out to be something very different she thought, and she notices that she is working as a prostitute for an employee who is ready to do anything to keep her working. Aliide decides decides to help her and by seeing a photo Zara carries around she discovers that it is not by coincidence that Zara popped out to her yard.
As the story develops, the past of both characters, Aliide and Zara, is opened to the reader. Aliide's youth, her love to her sister's husband Hans and the acts she was ready to do in order make him love her are described wividly. Zara's past is told as it is, violent and disturbing. What I really liked about this was the fact that the sexual abuse Zara experienced was told without hesitation. It really opened my eyes about the situation Zara was in. The novel also introduces us to Hans, who through his journal entries opens up his story. I think that the journal entries were a great addition to this novel since otherwise the story is about the situation of women. By reading the journal entries by Hans we get to know what was going on in a man's head.
The disturbing harshes of the lifes of these two women, the despair of Hans in losing this wife and daughter, the passionate love of Aliide towards Hans and Zara's hope of better future make this story a breathtaking read. It opens up the Estonian history by introducing us to there three very different personalities who have a deep connection between them.
It is hard to define how wonderful this book was by using words. You just have to read it by yourself. I cannot believe I am actually saying this about a Finnish book. I think this is actually the first Finnish novel I ever review to my blog. So that shows you how much Finnish literature I read. I am so happy this book will be published on different languages, since I want others to have a change to read this amazing novel about passionate love, despair, shame, history, the need for home and the want to be free.