60. PURGE, BY SOFI OKSANEN
The last of Tytti’s recommendations. She warned me it contained sexual violence, but I still wasn’t quite ready for the graphic descriptions and sadistic details. Still, a very interesting book, if you have the stomach for it.
Synopsis: Aliide, an old Soviet occupancy survivor living in Estonia, finds a disheveled girl sleeping outside her house. She turns out to be Zara, her grandniece, escaping from sexual slavery. As they decide if they can trust one another, and try to solve the problem of Zara’s captors coming after her, they relive their experiences.
Overall enjoyment: Well. It was very interesting. The story was gripping. The flashbacks were dynamic and brutal. It was a very well written book, but reading it is definitely not a pleasurable experience.
Plot: It’s told mostly by flashbacks of the two women’s stories. I thought it was very well done, building up suspense and parallels between them. That last part was a particularly nice touch, not really a plot twist, but tidbits of information that drastically change the way you see Aliide’s story.
Characters: Very well written and complex. Their conflicting and contradictory desires are presented in a way that doesn’t seem strange at all. The only criticism is that, quite often, she resorts to having the narrator spell out motives and reactions, and sometimes even psychologically analyze the characters to make their actions understandable. Some more subtlety might have gone a long way.
World/setting: The unrelenting atmosphere of fear caused by the political upheaval dominates the entire book. Even Zara’s story is moved by it.
Writing style: Hard to tell for sure, since what I read was a translation. It was easy enough to read, with many interesting stylistic choices. The constant and thorough description of sexual violence still felt a bit excessive. She was probably going for the shock value, and I have no doubt that many women have (and still do) gone through similar experiences, but after a while, reading it felt like sadistic voyeurism.
Representation: It’s a book about Baltic women, so these characters abound.
Political correctness: Both the background themes of this book, sex trafficking and violence during occupation, are so rife with polemic I could probably write an essay on this book, but I’ll try to keep it short. One thing I found interesting is how the biggest driving force behind both Zara and Aliide is shame, in spite of the fact that they’re not exactly guilty of anything. (Aliide is, but not until later, and she’s partly driven to it by shame.) It has always been, and still is, one of the major ways to control victims: make them feel ashamed of what happened.
Up next: The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi