Purge – Sofi Oksanen

Old Aliide Truu lives alone in a cottage in the woods. Her isolation is interrupted when a strange young woman arrives – bruised, dirty and shoeless - at her door. Overcome by curiosity, the old woman decides, warily, to take her in. 

Zara is on the run from men who tortured, raped and sold her into slavery. Her only possession is a tattered photograph. When Aliide sees the picture, she immediately recognises herself and her sister. Horrified, she begins to realise that the past she has long tried to forget has finally caught up with her...

Purge is a hauntingly intimate portrait of one family's shame against a backdrop of European war. It is a fiercely compelling and damning novel about what we will accept just to survive and the legacies created by our worst experiences. 

Genre: Fiction, Family Saga, Historical, Estonian
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Year: 2008
Rating: 3/5

Purge by Sofi Oksanen is one of those novels that I had to read because it seemed everyone had read it, and said it was a "must read". I am not sure I'd agree with that description, but I am glad I read it. It was... interesting, to say the least. 

Purge tells the stories of both Zara, a young woman who has been forced into prostitution and Aliide, an old woman with some harrowing secrets. 

The novel jumps between the present, which involves Zara and Aliide getting to know each other, and the past stories of both women. 

Aliide's story was by far the more interesting of the two. A bitter, cranky old woman, we come to understand why she is the way she is because of her childhood, the atrocities she was subjected to during the war and the things she did to survive. 

When it comes down to it, Aliide is one nasty piece of work. I could not sympathise with her character in the slightest. I can understand in a way why she did the things she did, I guess self preservation takes over when your in a dire situation and your life is at stake... but part of me also thinks that she's just a wicked and selfish person. I could not like her.

As for Zara, her story was just like every other "forced into prostitution and abused by her captives" story out there. I know that probably sounds harsh as these things do happen every day, to thousands of women, and I don't want to take away from the horror and injustice of that, but I've read it all before. There was nothing new there.

I also never really came to understand why Zara ended up in that situation.... sure she probably needed money, and she was tempted by the luxuries of the western world, but to me there is usually an underlying trauma or issue that leads a person into a bad choice like that. Here, I just didn't see it. 

Sure, her mother and grandmother had horrible stories to tell, and I am sure she was affected by their attitudes and the way they dealt with their past, but it just didn't sit right. Zara was just not fleshed out very well. Not like Aliide who was given a distinct personality.... not a good one, I would not want to be friends with that woman! But Oksanen did a good job of creating a "real" character with Aliide. 

This novel paints a picture of war torn Estonia, a country I have never read about before. So I found the cultural and historical aspects of this novel interesting. 

I think you'd like this book if you like family sagas, stories of war, and stories showing the injustices and issues that face women across the world. I warn you, there are a few parts of this story that were hard to handle... scenes of rape, one involving a child which I found extremely disturbing and hard to read, not to mention graphic sex. But as disturbing as some of these things were, these things are real. These things have and still do happen, and I think it is important to be aware of that.

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