Review: Purge by Sofi Oksanen

Book info:
Form: e-book, pdf format
Genre: contemporary fiction
Target audience: adults


You can call this book a tale of two sisters and indeed, it reminded me of all these folk songs about sibling rivalry. Ingel and Aliide, two Estonian peasant girls, had a very bad luck of falling for the same German boy. Ingel was very pretty, even beautiful, and whatever she did, she did it always better than other girls. Aliide was less pretty and less gifted, completely overshadowed by her perfect sister. The boy in question, Hans Pekk, chose Ingel. They married, were very happy and soon they had a little baby girl, Linda. Despite that fact Aliide never stopped loving Hans; her torment made her slowly ruin her own life and the life of her closest relatives, with a little help from the Russian communists who were simply great at wreaking havoc and ruining people’s lives whenever they went.

The novel starts when elderly and widowed Aliide, living alone in a half-deserted Estonian village, finds a strange girl near her house. The girl needs help very badly – she is hungry, filthy and it is obvious she’s been beaten regularly. In spite of her initial fear Aliide empathizes with the girl  too much to ignore her; she invites her inside, gives her a bath, some fresh clothes and food. The girl is called Zara and it seems she is running from the cruel Russian Mafia men. Gradually, as the story unfurls, you find out it was hardly by accident that Zara wandered to Aliide’s house; she sought out that woman because they are actually related. Still at first Zara tells a lot of lies, only later revealing a very disturbing and sad truth about herself and her situation. It makes Aliide reminisce about the difficult times under the Soviet rule – ironically nothing changed. Her own youth was full of horrible experiences as well, similar to those of young Zara,. Will these two women help each other? Will they understand each other’s decisions? Will they become family again?

My impressions:

I was very deeply moved by this book; as a result my review is much more personal and a bit different than usual. I felt connected to it on more than one level. 

Believe me or not but it was a book which kept me awake at night and gave me nightmares (a very rare occurrence). It was a book that reminded me of some simple truths, namely that life is a bitch and sometimes you simply cannot do anything about it. One stupid decision might ruin your future and sometimes no decision is needed at all because, no matter what you do, your life will be ruined anyway – it’s your fate, karma, politics, war, or other stupid circumstances completely beyond your control. It was a book that made me want to howl with rage and cry.

It was a book that portrayed love at its cruelest and most beautiful. It made me pet my dog for hours because animals, seen from some aspects, are far better than humans – they never judge you by appearances and, as long as you treat them well, they will pay you back with love and lasting attachment. It was a book which, like ancient tragedies, was able to trigger a haunting catharsis, a purge promised in the title. Have you read or seen “Atonement”? Compared to this one, “Atonement” seemed to me just like a child’s prattle, nothing more. Because sometimes you can’t atone for your sins, no matter what you do.

It was a book I couldn’t stop reading even though I had more pressing tasks at hand. I got sucked into it and, although I was very uncomfortable from time to time, I didn’t want to leave till the last word. 

Final verdict:

Heartrending. Incredibly sad and wise. Hauntingly beautiful. The plot and the characters are like an accident waiting to happen – you can’t divert your eyes even though nobody forces you to watch. Highly recommendable but not a comfortable read. Still easily the best book I’ve read this year. I don’t know when I will be able to read another book.

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