Monday, July 18, 2016

Estonia: Purge, by Sofi Oksanen

Aliide Truu, an elderly Estonian woman, lives alone on the outskirts of a forest in Western Estonia. One day a dishevelled Russian girl appears in her yard, on the run. Where and who she is running from, and her connection to Aliide, are gradually revealed. Short chapters give shifting viewpoints and build tension as the plot shifts from an independent Estonia in the 1930s, though German and then Soviet occupation, to a free Estonia of the early 1990s. Secret Russian intelligence documents at the end of the book give another viewpoint, casting doubt on some of what has gone before.

Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish writer born to a Finnish father and an Estonian mother. The book makes clear the reasons for the displacement of so many Estonians, forcibly removed to Siberia, others voluntarily to Russia fleeing the Germans, to Germany fleeing the Russians, to Finland and Sweden and further west fleeing both. Besides the devastation caused by war, sexual violence against woman is a strong theme.

The one thing I found annoying about the copy I read was that it is one of those editions designed for book clubs, with a set of "questions for discussion" at the end. I have never belonged to a book club though I might consider it given sufficient spare time - but would run a mile from any book club that felt obliged to follow the sort of inane and prescriptive questions that these books seem to feel are helpful.

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