14 Aug 2011
Finding Finnish author Sofi Oksanen's novel "Purge" in a second-hand bookshop for a few pounds was a real find! It's been on my TBR ever since I read a review of it in the Sunday paper and when I bought it, I couldn't keep myself from reading it immediately because I was so curious about the story.
This is a dark novel on several levels with two stories intertwining, both very dark tales of women whose lives have not been easy. Aliide Truu is an elderly lady living in an old farmhouse in the Estonian countryside. She lives in a rather old-fashioned way and is largely self-sufficient and withdrawn from the world. So one day when Aliide finds a young woman outside her house, a woman in strange Westernized clothes who behaves really strangely, she is obviously suspicious. There is something about the woman though, that means that Aliide can't just leave her to her destiny so she takes her in, feeds her and chats with her while trying to figure out what has happened to this young woman, Zara, to leave her in such a difficult situation.
Aliide's and Zara's stories are very dissimilar. One is the story of living in a country where communism pervades everything. Where husbands spy on wives and village men rape girls to torture their parents. It is such a strong, emotional story of lives being torn apart, love having to give up when faced with such strong adversity, it is raw and painful to read, yet impossible to put down. And this is something that Aliide's story shares with Zara's story. Zara's story is about being a trafficking victim, about a naive, young girl who has always been deprived of the Western luxury who jumps on the chance for a new start in the West and ends up losing everything except her life. It is as painful and raw as Aliide's story even though the two stories are very different. It almost physically hurts to read it.
The strengths of "Purge" are many. It is not sugarcoated, everything is exposed, all human flaws are there in plain view and even the main characters that as a reader, I sympathized with, are full of flaws. Another strength is the historical aspect. As a historical story, it works really well because it envokes an Estonia of the past (luckily) that is so different from modern-day Estonia, yet gives you a better chance of understanding Estonia and the other countries that suffered during the dark days of communism and Stalin. It is truly a scary read on so many levels, from the explicit violence and the vulnerability of the women in this story to the political environment and the men that will do anything for money, power, status or a casino.
A quote to give you a taste of "Purge":
"too many people had dirty flour in their bags, and people with filthy fingers are hardly enthusiastic about digging up the past . . . those who poke around in the past will get a stick in the eye."
This is one of the best novels I have read in 2011 and I will definitely re-read it and buy it as a present for many of my friends.
Read it if: You enjoyed the movie "The Lives of the Others" or if you love your books to leave you with a lot to think about.