Set in Estonia through the whole period that saw the German occupation, the Soviet occupation and the return to independence, this novel tells the story of two sisters from a small village who only try to survive the difficult circumstances of their lives. The eldest, Ingel, marries Hans for love. Aliide, also in love with Hans, has to share their life on the family farm until she marries herself. Her marriage is not based on love, but on the need for protection and survival and her husband is a Party man. At the beginning of the Soviet occupation, Hans goes into hiding supported by his wife and sister in law.
Much of the story is told from Aliide’s point of view. While she seems to be a trustworthy narrator, we eventually come to suspect that her version of the facts may not be entirely truthful. She claims to be innocent, unaware of and unaffected by politics and driven by her love of Hans and need for her own survival. It seems, based on later statements, that she may have had more of a hand in the removal of both her sister and her young niece to the Soviet Union.
The narration from Aliide’s point of view is interspaced with entries from Hans’ journal. A third point of view is prominent throughout the novel: that of Zara, Aliide’s great-niece, who seeks to escape from criminals who had taken her from her home in Vladivostok to work in Germany where she was forced into prostitution.
At the end of the novel, the tone changes and we find ourselves reading secret service reports into the behaviors of Hand, Aliide and Ingel, as well as Aliide’s husband Martin and a few tantalizing tidbits shed new lights on information previously revealed or hinted at… and some people are not what they seemed to be.
A great read, with a complex story, set in a part of the world I hardly know about.
Oksanen, Sofi, Purge, Black Cat Grove/Atlantic, New York, 2010. (originally published in Finnish in 2008)
- ‘Purge’ by Sofi Oksanen (kimbofo.typepad.com)