Tag Archives: Estonia

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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Sofi Oksanen, Les vaches de Staline (Staline’s Cows)

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Ce livre n’est devenu disponible en traduction française qu’après le grand succès de Purge et ne l’est toujours pas en anglais. Tout comme Purge, ce livre se passe en partie en Estonie et l’histoire récente de ce pays se pose en trame de fond au récit. Katariina, un des personnages principaux, est une ingénieure estonienne qui épouse un Finlandais et émigre en Finlande. Ils ont une fille, Anna, qui a une relation trouble avec ses origines, avec la Finlande et sa culture, ainsi qu’avec la nourriture. On pourrait ainsi dire qu’Anna est une personne troublée dont les problèmes envahissants l’empêchent d’avoir des relations saines avec autrui.

L’obsession de Katariina pour la gestion des apparences, un moyen de protection sûr dans un régime totalitaire où rien ne peut aller à l’encontre des attentes du régime sans poser problème, s’est transmuté en boulimie-anorexie chez sa fille Anna qui a une obsession d’avoir une apparence qu’elle considère idéale à un poids qu’elle considère idéal. En même temps, elle veut cacher le fait qu’elle se fait vomir et les divers stratagèmes qu’elle emploie pour dissimuler cette pratique relève parfois de la farce.

Ce livre foisonne de lignes narratives et je doute qu’une seule lecture permette de toutes les saisir et de voir les relations entre elles. Pourquoi le père est-il toujours absent et pourquoi semble-t-il avoir une autre vie à Moscou? Pourquoi la mère accepte-t-elle cette situation? Elle préfère peut-être ne pas avoir le père dans les jambes? L’auteure essaie-t-elle de souligner l’immense solitude de chacun des personnages?

Le récit passe maintes fois de la période des années 40 (l’enfance de Katariina), au milieu des années 70 (la rencontre des parents) et un présent où Anna est une jeune adulte. Ces passages mettent en évidence le lien entre les dissimulations des proches de Katariina durant de l’ère soviétique, l’étanchéité de la cellule familiale d’Anna en Finlande où ils ont peu de contact avec les Finlandais et se méfient et se tiennent à l’écart de la communauté estonienne, et l’isolement dans lequel les troubles alimentaires poussent Anna tout au long de sa vie.

Dans la troisième partie du livre, Anna a un amant qu’elle appelle « son petit troll »… devant qui elle ne dissimule rien et à qui elle révèle tout. Cet état libérateur lui permet de mieux jouir de la vie; elle sent qu’elle est arrivée à destination.

 

Référence

Oksanen, Sofi. Les vaches de Staline. Éditions Stock, 2011. (originalement publié en finnois en 2003)

Sofi Oksanen, Purge

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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.

 

References:

Oksanen, Sofi, Purge, Black Cat Grove/Atlantic, New York, 2010. (originally published in Finnish in 2008)