Without any shadow of doubt, Purge by Sofi Oksanen is an extraordinary ambitious work that deserves to be given the highest consideration. In very sophisticated manner, the author combined complicated family issues with difficult political history of Estonia.
The novel is set is 1992. Aliide Truu, is an elderly widow who lives in countryside in Western Estonia, where people despise her due to her communist past. One day, bruised and terrified girl appears in Aliide’s garden and looks for a shelter. Zara, a prostitute and murderer, is on the run from her inhuman captors. From the very beginning of the book, you feel that both protagonists have deep dark secrets and try to hide their shame. Suspicion and fear characterize relationship between two women.
The book moves back and forth in time and steadily unveils stories of both women. When communists took power in Estonia, Aliide did everything to save her sister’s husband. Consequently, Aliide experienced sexual abuse during interrogation by the communist militia and the shame became inseparable part of her life. By marrying local communist, she got a chance to live relatively normal life. Her sister Ingel was less fortunate, she was sent with her daughter to Siberia. The story of sexual violence and shame repeats with young Zara, who became a victim of human trafficking. Her oppressors, the Russian mafia, made her believe she was nothing more than ‘a stupid girl, a hopeless idiot’. In very realistic way, the author describes what Zara went through and what she did in order to survive. Finally, it is revealed that Zara did not choose Aliide’s house by accident. In fact, she was a granddaughter of Ingel.
Both women experienced sexual abuse but from hands of different oppressors. Aliide was a victim of the communists who possessed unlimited power over people’s lives, while Zara became a sex slave of mafia in post- Soviet period. Those men tried to dehumanize and deprive women of dignity. Aliide and Zara symbolize millions of women around the world- the victims of sexual violence.
Purge is also about great desire to live. The choices that Aliide and Zara made show what people in order to survive are capable of.
Equally important, Purge tells about Estonia’s complicated history. In this book, Estonia can be a symbol of every post- soviet state. Description of life in Estonia under communist rule and problems that young independent country had to cope with, might refer to all Central and Eastern European countries. I think that nowadays, many atrocities of communist regime are conveniently forgotten. Purge is a masterpiece of presenting difficult political history through lives of the people. Sofi Oksanen exposed those aspects of life during and after communist era that many people are not aware of, or they forget about. I would recommend this book to everyone who is interested in history of the region.
The only thing that undermines the book is a very unfortunate cover. When I saw it, I assumed Purge was a typical criminal novel, but then, I realized it was much more than that.
This is the best book that I have read in the last few year. There are lots of good books, but there are just a few outstanding books that truly impact people. It has been a great reading experience.