The reason I re-read this book was because 1) I had a feeling I should and 2) it's part of the syllabus next fall and it's difficult to teach a book you can't remember anything of. And this is why it's on the list even though it sort of isn't.
Incredulous laughter raced from one town to the next, from village to village. The catchphrases — We’re fighting for Stalin’s great cause and We will liquidate illiteracy — provoked endless amusement. They couldn’t possibly be serious! The biggest joke of all was the officers’ wives, prancing around in fringed nightgowns in the villages, at the dances, in the streets. And what about those Red Army soldiers, peeling boiled potatoes with their fingernails like they didn’t know how to use a knife? Who could take a bunch like them seriously? But then people started disappearing and the laughter turned bitter. When they started loading up women, men, and children for slaughter, the stories were repeated like prayers. Aliide and Ingel’s father was snatched from the main road to the village. Their mother just disappeared; the girls came home to find the house empty, and yelled like animals. The dog wouldn’t stop waiting for its master; it sat next to the porch and howled with longing until it died. No one dared to go about their business outside, the land groaned under a flood of sorrow, and someone was added to the family of the dead in every grave dug in Estonian soil. The tumult of the front moved over every part of the country, and every part of the country cried out for help to Jesus, Germany, and the old gods. (Read more)
Purge covers three generations by telling the stories of two of them. The story begins from the year 1992, when Aliide Truu finds a girl, Zara, on her yard in the Estonian countryside and decides to help her as she tells her she's running from her violent husband. Actually Zara is Aliide's sister Ingel's grandchild who's been working as a prostitute in Vladivostok but got away and is looking for a way to get home. Simultaneously the book tells the story of Aliide and Ingel's youth - what happens when they both love the man Ingel marries, what is it like to live under the power of communism and what is needed to do to protect the ones you love - and the story of Zara - how she wants to work in the rich west but ends up paying a debt that never really existed with her own body. Purge is a historical and in some senses autobiographical novel that began from a story (in Finnish) Oksanen heard as a child. The terrifying truth that really glows from the story is what makes Purge so touching.
I tried to be rather negative and sceptical but couldn't - I love the way Oksanen writes and describes everything. The describing text is sometimes terrible to read as at least I feel I wouldn't want to know that much, it's too easy to picture it all. I read the paperback version which also included the opera libretto. That was amazing as it was like a raw version of the novel - only two acts that say so incredibly much. I watched the movie some time ago (It was horrible but easily the best Finnish movie ever, do check it out!) but would really be interested in seeing the play or the opera. In the paperback version there were also pictures of flies on the pages, which I found absolutely adorable. Well, the flies are not very adorable, but I just loved the fact that there were some. Can't include a pic though, as I already returned my copy to the library.
The rights of Purge are sold to 43 territories so there is no excuse not to read it. I don't know how well the translations work but I will check it out some day and read it at least in English.
Edit:// Oh I completely forgot!! I give the book 5/7, of which one point might just be because of the flies and the libretto.
Oksanen, Sofi 2008/2012: Puhdistus. Helsinki: Silberfeldt.