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Purge by Sofi Oksanen


I won this book from Zee@Notes from the North last year. I have an extra copy to give away. The giveaway gave me the impetus to read this book.

There was a stranger at the door step….

It’s 1992 (just before the closing of the iron curtain), Aliide Truu is an old woman living alone in a cottage in Western Estonia, Läänemaa. One day, a young woman fell unconscious on Aliide’s front door. There were many pranks of robbery and young girls pretending to be hurt in the hope that they are shown to the house so that they can rob the owner. Aliide has to be careful as she is frequently harassed by the neighbour’s boys.

The young woman, Zara, appears well dressed and claimed to escape from her violent husband, Prasha. Aliide takes Zara in, and for the next few days both played a mind game of trust and how much each of them could disclosed about their identity.

In the first part of the book, the story moves between different time, 1992, a year earlier when Zara lives in Vladivostok with her family and her journey to Germany and the time when the cold war began in 1939 when Aliide and sister Ingel first met Hans up to 1944 to 1950 (the German invasion up to end of WWII). There is certainly many time zones to move back and forth to but Oksanen did a good job creating the suspense and string the stories that happened in these three time zones together.

Hans is a German and living in Estonia, in the ex-Soviet Union and WWII era, poses its political and domestic problems. The root of all discontentment and complication in the two sisters’ lives began with the fact that Aliide wanted Hans for her own, but Hans married Ingel instead. They bore a daughter named Linda which they tried to shield from all horrors that are happening in those troubling times, at one point the attempt was unsuccessful.

Zara’s story is not any better. Lure by the glitters of the west, Zara finds her way to the west but atrocities and encounters that happen in nightmare awaits her.

The root of all evil begins with desire….

The book is gripping and I was turning the pages trying to find out what happens at the end. Looking back the novel conveys a lot more than merely being a thriller.

It’s a story about how young women were exploited. Some of the pages that reads like a harrowing reportage was Zara’s experience (I do not want to spoil it for you but you would have guessed!). Oksanen also successfully created this female protagonist Aliide that is both a heroine and a villain. Set in a country that I know very little of and a political background which undergone so many changes, I have quite a sensational book on hand this one.

What motivates a person to commit a noble deed, like saving a person’s life? Is it love? Or hatred? Revenge or jealousy? Do you keep a person’s lock-up and alive because of his own good or because of your selfish need to control? Can you deny your own heart’s desire and marry for convenience? Can you ever love your sister enough to forget about the rivalry and the hurt she has caused you?

The book doesn’t make up its mind about what is right or wrong, good or bad. I thought it is very sad to have Aliide obsessed with the one thing that she truly wants and she has never moved on in her life. Despite the fact I thought she married Martin who seems to love her.

A blend of everything

The final part of the novel was a series of classified documents from the Russian authorities on its spying activities. It answered some questions about Aliide’s true intention but it all didn’t come as a surprise for me. The reports only seek to reinforce my belief.

I thought it is an unusual way for the writer to write a novel in three different time period, a few chapters opening with a letter from an unknown person (which readers soon get to know) and then ended the novel with a collection of classified documents.

But I thought it actually work.

A bit of Anne Frank, a bit of Cold War vs WWII political tension, a bit of thugs and the underworld and a bit of domestic squabbles, makes this a thoroughly gripping and harrowing read. A story that makes you think how far you could go to get what you want. Haunting.

Rating: four and a half stars

Do you have any idea why the book title is called Purge? I can’t associate what I read with the book title. What do you think? I will reveal the giveaway winner of this book this Saturday.

Other views:

Judith@leeswammes , Maxine@Petrona, Simon@Savidgereads and Simon’s interview with Sofi Oksanen

Paperback. Publisher: Atlantic books 2010 ; Length: 390 pages; Setting: Estonia and Germany. Source: Own copy. Finished reading at: 25th November 2012. Translated by Lola Rogers.

About the writer:

oksanenSofi Oksanen (born January 7, 1977) is a Finnish contemporary writer. She was born in Jyväskylä. Her father is Finnish and her mother is Estonian. So far, Oksanen has published four novels, one an international best seller and a play. She has received several awards for her literary work.

In Finland, Oksanen was awarded the prestigious Finlandia Prize (2008), the Runeberg Prize (2009) and the Nordic Council Literature Prize (2010) for Puhdistus. Abroad, the novel won the French Fnac prize in 2010, selected from some 300 works published in France amid positive reviews by French critics; it was the first time the prize had been awarded to a foreigner.Purge was also the first Finnish work to win the Prix Femina Étranger award.[20] and the first work by a female Finn to win the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize. In 2009, the largest daily Estonian newspaper Postimees named Sofi Oksanen Person of the Year; according to the editor-in-chief Merit Kopli the decision was unanimous. In 2010 the Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves decorated Sofi Oksanen with the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana IV Class.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


17 thoughts on “Purge by Sofi Oksanen

  1. Glad you enjoyed this one…I read it last year but it still lingers in my memory very strongly. I thought the title could have had several meanings….the first being that that Stalin carried out a purge of people deemed to be collaborators after the German occupation, then there’s the villages trying to purge themselves of Allide and other communist sympathisers…and then various characters were attempting to purge things from their lives too. Or maybe I read too much into it….it’s been known to happen 🙂

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | December 7, 2012, 4:05 am
    • Bernadette,
      Coming from you it means a lot and that this is really one book that stuck to my mind. I think you are write about the Purging in every sense of words and meaning! 😀 Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bernadette.

      Posted by JoV | December 7, 2012, 10:26 am
  2. In France, the purge is the period after WWII when they purged collaborators etc. As stated above, I assume this may be something similar.

    Posted by Sly Wit | December 7, 2012, 6:30 am
  3. More people should read this book! Judith (Leeswammes) and me read it a while ago. It left a deep impression… but I didn’t like the final part much. The documents explain some, but the book probably wouldn’t have suffered from leaving them out. IMHO 😉

    Posted by Chinoiseries | December 7, 2012, 11:08 am
    • Yeah Tze-Wen,
      The final part was a bit odd. I suppose the docs add some form of formality into the novel about how serious the political setting is. I think the book wouldn’t suffer much without it. 😉

      Posted by JoV | December 7, 2012, 3:12 pm
  4. Sounds pretty good.

    Posted by Ti | December 7, 2012, 9:14 pm
  5. Glad you enjoyed it, I found it gripping too. How creepy was Aliide? I felt very sorry for her but at the same time completely repulsed by her.

    Posted by Sam (Tiny Library) | December 7, 2012, 9:42 pm
  6. An intriguing review, sounds like a good read and got me reading the other reviews you highlighted, so thanks for that.

    In my reading around, I also read the review in The Guardian which starts out by saying The title alludes to the mass deportation to Stalin’s gulags of those Estonians deemed to have collaborated during the 1941-44 German occupation.

    Posted by Claire 'Word by Word' | December 9, 2012, 11:34 am
    • Claire,
      I’m glad you find this intriguing. One of the things I blog is to be able to introduce books like this to everyone.
      Thanks for explanation. I think that really affirms the title.

      Posted by JoV | December 9, 2012, 9:04 pm
  7. I loved this really hope we get something new from her soon ,this book told suchan important story about women in eastern europe and the sex trade ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | December 12, 2012, 5:55 pm
  8. In medical terms a purge is a cleansing of something toxic. The title conveys, for me, the fact of the physical purge (sending citizens into exile) as well as the need for the two women to “purge” themselves of their past deeds.

    Posted by Jean Wilson | January 6, 2013, 2:36 am
  9. I’ve read section five of the novel twice and find it intriguing and full of information. I’m still sure I’ve missed things in that section. Would others like to discuss this section?

    Posted by Jean Wilson | January 6, 2013, 2:39 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

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The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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