I picked up Purge afer reading several glowing reviews and I remember one of the reviewers urging everyone to read this book. I also enjoy books set in Eastern Europe – Purge is set in Estonia, a country I know little about but Tallin has been on my travel wish list for a while. Then I saw it come into the bookshops here in the UK and thought it was time to try it. I’m glad I did, it’s not a light read and takes a while to get going but is worth it.
The year is 1992 and Aliide Truu is an old woman living in the family home she has been in for over 40 years on the edge of a forest in an Estonian village. Her husband is dead and her daughter is far away in Finland. Daily life for Aliide is a battle with the flies over her food and dealing with the local boys throwing rocks at her house – a reminder of times gone by and the decisions she made and has had to live with since. Aliide is a suspicious woman, and becomes even more so when a young woman Zara, on the run from something, turns up in a dishevelled heap in her front garden. It becomes apparent that this arrival is no accident and kicks off a game of cat and mouse between the two women, each with secrets and devastating histories.
Most of Aliide’s story takes place during the Soviet occupation of Estonia during and following WII and all the horrors that came with that for Aliide as a young woman, for her family, for a people and a nation. The fact that Purge is a work of fiction offers little comfort for the reader, Sofi Oksanen has Estonian ancestory and has a dedication at the beginning of the book to the real men and women who lived during this time. Fear, violation and loss of freedom permeate this story but more than that it is about trust and betrayal and ultimately survival.
I wondered at first if I was going to enjoy this book. It seemed a bit stilted and I wondered if perhaps it suffered in translation. As Aliide’s story was slowly revealed though, I become engrossed with it and that part of the book was amazing. Without wanting to give any more of the plot away, I can understand why the two women’s stories were told together but I struggled to really feel the link between the two.
Translated from Finnish by Lola Rogers
400 pages, 2009