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.
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.
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:
Sofi 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. 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.