Friday, August 27, 2010

Purge - Sofi Oksanen

Meet Aliide Truu, living an isolated life in a remote Estonian Village in 1992. Her only daughter is moved to Finland an year ago and haven't visited her since then. The village is becoming less inhabited, as more and more people are leaving the country side moving to the city. Apart for a  few hooligans pelting stones at her house, there isn't anyone interested in her living in the country. To this setting, lands Zara, a young girl running away from her captors - the Russian Mafia men , dirty, bruised physically and mentally.

It was made obvious to the readers that the young girl, running away from the Russian Sex Trafficking Mafia, after going through some of the worst time of her life since leaving her home at Vladivostok. But, how did she end up at this remote village ?  It is not by chance, but there is some definite connection between the old lady and Zara, which is not revealed to Aliide. The girls speaks very crude form of Estonian, "Older, yellow and moth eaten". Zara produces an old photo of Aliide and her sister Ingel, without explaining how she happen to possess it, only to receive the denial from Aliide, about having a sister.

But, this photo triggered, the chain of thoughts in Aliide, taking us to the days of German siege, end of World war and the occupation by Soviet Forces. This parts takes us through some of the best writing in the book. The upbringing of the sisters, the rebellion against the soviet militia, the underground resistance organisation which they are either part of or supportive of, surviving torture and humiliation. Both Aliide and Ingel fell in love with the same person, Hans Pekk , member of the resistance organisation, but it was Ingel who won his heart. The situation soon turned worse after the Russian invasion,  Hans had to escape to the woods evading which hunt. The sisters spread the story of his death around the village, but the authorities are not convinced. They were summoned often to find the whereabout of Hans, and the authorities didn't even leave the young child, torturing and abusing them hoping to find a slight variations in their stories. Against all the rapes, beatings and torments, they stood tall. However the story turns bitter after Aliide, marrying Martin, a member of the Communist Party and the eventual extradition of Ingel along with her daughter. Aliide, under the cover of a communist husband, continued her clandestine support to the resistance organisation, sheltering and providing the necessary means to Hans, trying to win back her long lost lover.

On her part Zara's story is no different, as she seeks her own independence and financial freedom, but ending up tortured and humiliated by the new masters using her in their sex trade. After enduring horrible life as a sex-slave in Germany and other part of the new world, she manages her escape, killing one of her client. But she is certain that she will be traced and taken back to the cartel. Expecting the black luxury car to take her back, she is terrified of any noise that heard in the compound.

The arrival of Zara, would have provided Aliide with some redemption. Making amends to her action, which probably would have ended up Ingel and her daughter in Siberia, by providing shelter and protection to the grand daughter of Ingel.

Alternating the narrative between the early Soviet Occupation of Estonia, and the Newly separated Estonia, Sofi Oksanen, brings out a fantastic tale of a society continued to be occupied and humiliated under different time and regime. The book can be read as a thriller ( there is enough suspense till the end) or as a historical and political novel.

Estonia has to suffer the after effects of both the invasion and the collapse of Soviet Power. During the initial days of occupation they had looked towards west. To help them from the German Occupation and then against the Russian invasion. Hans, was very sure, that British or the US will come and save them.
     "Roosevelt will come !"
     "Roosevelt's dead."
     "The West won't forget about us !"
     "They already did. They won, and they forgot."
     "You have so little faith."

Its the same story after the independence from USSR. To the power vacuum came in the new Russian Mafia. The new generation of Estonians are leaving the country ( or the country side to the cities) leaving the interiors left to the older generations. The writing isn't graphic with the descriptions of torture and humiliation, but powerful enough. There is no judgment nor any biased views.

Originally staged and a play in Finland, later developed by her into a full-fledged novel. The book is brilliant and highly recommended.

Purge (2009)

Sofi Oksanen ( translated from Finnish by Lola Rogers )

Atlantic Books

490 Pages

Rs 299/-

Other Reviews : Complete Review , Wordwithoutborders

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