Puhdistus

I read Purge (Puhdistus in Finnish) by Sofi Oksonen (in French) this summer when flying to San Francisco from Vancouver. This is a strong and gripping novel, as others have noticed before me. It takes place in post-communist Estonia where a widow of a (very lower-ranking) member of the communist nomenklatura is forced into considering her past choices and the lies she made to herself and to others when her grand-niece pops in, pursued by Russian-mafia-style gangsters who had enslaved her into a cruel prostitution scheme in Germany… This may sound like a cheap plot but the slow unravelling of the old woman’s (horrific) deeds and of the compromises she was led to endure makes for a much deeper read. There is also an historical level about Estonia being as ruthlessly occupied by Soviet soldiers as by Nazis, and about the hopeless fight of the local partisans followed by massive deportations to the Russian Far East. The book is thus multifaceted and the end, although predictable, is a nice tale of redemption for the old Aliide Truu who would otherwise appear as a remorseless criminal… An impressive and recommended tour-de-force! (Note that, despite some misguided criticisms found on Amazon, this is not a thriller!)

Purge
by Sofi Oksanen
Old Aliide Truu lives alone in a cottage in the woods, pestered by flies she wishes would leave her in peace. Her isolation is interrupted when she spies a young woman under a tree in her garden. The girl is strange; arriving in the dead of night, bruised, dirty and shoeless – why is she at Aliide’s door? Overcome by curiosity the old woman decides, warily, to take her in. Zara is on the run from men who tortured, raped, and sold her into slavery. Her only possession is a tattered photograph of her grandmother and another woman; in which Aliide recognizes herself and her sister. Horrified, she begins to realize that the past she has long tried to forget has finally caught up with her – Purge is a hauntingly intimate portrait of one family’s shame against a backdrop of European war. It is a fiercely compelling novel about what we will accept just to survive and the legacies created by our worst experiences.

One Response to “Puhdistus”

  1. [...] the book. The part about Tania, the migrant from Russia (or Latvia?), reminded me very vividly of Pudhishtus, or Purge, I reviewed last year, about a young woman fleeing a prostitution ring and arriving at [...]

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