“Purge” is the first novel to have won both the of Finland’s most prestigious literary prizes, tand to have followed them with the the Nordic Council award. Sofi Oksanen, of Finnish/Estonian heritage, named Estonia’s person of the year in 2009, has authored something extraordinary, a book that became a bestseller both in Estonia and Finland and is the youngest author ever to win either one of these top awards.
Oksanen’s first play, Puhdistus (Purge), was staged at Finland’s national Theatre in 2007. Puhdistus, her third novel, retells the story of the play about two women, using flashbacks between 1939 and 1992, the years coinciding more or less with the Soviet occupation of Estonia.
Aliide Truu has survived the brutality of the Stalin era and the mass deportations of Estonians to Siberia. But she has to suffer her personal pangs of guilt, from opportunism, even from manslaughter. Living alone in the country, Aliide finds a dishevelled girl sheltering herself in her front yard. Aliide, dismisses her apprehensions and offers the girl shelter. Zara has just escaped from being held hostage as a sex slave by the Russian mafia.
A photo that Zara carries with her, betrays the fact that her arrival at Aliide’s was not one of pure destiny. The two women are actually related.
Aliide and Zara are both survivors. The women’s experiences as survivors of societal inhumanity and brutal sexual oppression as well as their own actions are intertwined with despair, opportunism, violence. Played out during the worst years of Estonia’s Soviet occupation, the story is a compelling narrative about the corrosive effects of shame and of a life and time in a place where to survive is to be compromised and implicated. It culminates in a family drama of rivalry, lust and loss.
The Kirkus Review notes: “This wonderfully subtle thriller…captures both the tragic consequences of one of Europe’s biggest conflicts and the universal horrors that war inflicts on women. With a tone somewhere between Ian McEwan’s Atonement and the best of the current crop of European crime novelists, this bitter gem promises great things from the talented Oksanen.” Publishing rights have been sold in twenty five countries.
Although Oksanen was raised in Finland, her love of Estonia’s land and people is evident. The reader can nearly smell the farm lands, hear the birds and see the plants and animals grow.
Oksanen first wrote Purge as a play. Perhaps its beginnings account for the short chapters and quick time shifts, like scenes in a drama.
With her first novel, Stalinin lehmät (Stalin’s Cows, 2003), Oksanen was catapulted into the elite of young Finnish literary authors. Her original and political debut, created a heated public debate and won her a nomination for the Runeberg award. She followed up her initial success with the publication of a second novel, Baby Jane, in 2005.
The book was translated into English by American Lola Rogers.
(Book available at estore, 416-4652219)
Oksanen’s “Purge”, winner of both Finlandia and Runebrg prizes, and Nordic Council Literature award (3)