Sofi Oksanen, Quand les colombes disparurent (When The Doves Disappeared)

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This book describes the survival strategies adopted by various characters as they grapple with the historical events they cannot influence. There is the fighter who resists situations he disagrees with and tries to help those who want to flee from it, there is the chameleon who tries to align with the forces at play and goes as far as changing his name (and beliefs!) and find all sorts of ways to justify his own behavior. Their the pretty woman who is sent to seduce a German officer and falls in love with another and imagines that is her ticket to safety, freedom and happiness and gets in the end terribly disappointed.

Some people have described this book as complex or difficult. It is only so if you are not accustomed to multiple voices and nonlinear timelines… And the design of the chapter headings make it easier to keep track by stating the location and year of the action that takes place in it. Two of the voices belong to brothers with widely differing political leanings, Roland and Edgar, and the third to Edgar’s wife Juudit. There might be a complication due to the fact that some characters change names depending on the political situation or to go into hiding. Then, you initially have to guess who’s who but that rapidly becomes clear.

I have seen in a newspaper article somewhere (just don’t remember where) that Oksanen wanted to write a Judith story. Well, I had to look up that biblical reference to see what she meant. So, Judith was a beautiful, intelligent and cunning woman who seduces a ruthless general and decapitates him in his sleep (that might be an oversimplification of what happens in the Book of Judith, but that’s have to do here). The Juudit of Oksanen’s story is not so cunning and while she gets into the bedroom, she ends up finding it way too comfortable to leave…

One thing that stuck me was the description of Juudit worrying about being seen at her mother’s old apartment being reminiscent of the scene where Raskolnikov is stuck in the apartment of the woman is murdered in Crime and Punishment. There is similar description of fear of repercussions and thinking about how to get out of that tough spot. I wonder is that was on purpose.

Overall, this was quite a compelling read. I will be looking forward to more books from Sofi Oksanen. See previous reviews here and here.

Reference:

Oksanen, Sofi. Quand les colombes disparurent. Collection « La cosmopolite ». Stock, 2013. (originally published in Finnish in 2012)

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