Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book 125: Purge

This was a dark book.  That may be the most accurate description.  Aliide has lived in a her village in Estonia her entire life, and she is incredibly suspicious.  It doesn't help that she is an outcast in her area, thus making her a lonely target.  As a result, even though she helps the young woman she discovers in her garden and hides her, she also suspects her of hiding something (which she is), and possibly plotting against her (which she isn't).
Zara, the young woman, is the character in the novel it is easiest to sympathize with.  The novel's present day is 1992, and Zara is a Russian, though she speaks Estonian due to her family's background and origin in the area.  After the collapse of the USSR, Zara comes west to make money, but instead discovers that she has been tricked into a sex trafficking ring, forced into prostitution.  She has escaped but fears that it is only temporary.
Aliide has survived the occupation of the Germans, and the Russians.  In her part of the world, the Russians were the greater of two evils, and interactions with the Russians have left her scarred, scared and compromised.  At some point, she chose safety over integrity.  While many of her actions are despicable, Oksanen sets them up in a way that they are understandable, and shows the gradual evolution of Aliide in an organic way.  Interspersed with Aliide's and Zara's chapters of the past and present are short journal entries.  While Aliide makes questionable decisions, she is not entirely unsympathetic.  Hans, her sister's husband, ends up on the wrong side of the law, and his wife and sister-in-law, shelter him for a very long period of time, making horrific sacrifices.  However, they also protect Hans from this truth, and I actually found him to be a rather unlikable character because he continues to live in this fantasy world while the women around him suffer for him and as a result of his idealism.  He may maintain his integrity and view himself as a hero but at what cost to those around him?  What right does he have to judge anyone, such as Aliide, when it is her actions keeping him alive?  She does definitely do things later on that should and can be questioned but in other cases, Hans really has no right to judge.
I'm not sure how accurate a portrayal this is of Estonia.  The author is Finnish-Estonian, and she does mention that quite a few people left Estonia to try their luck in Finland. It is an interesting and thought provoking novel but it is also very dark and bleak.

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