Friday, 29 July 2011

Review of Purge by Sofi Oksanen

Thanks to Atlantic Books for sending me a copy of Purge to review!!
Purge has become an international publishing sensation.  It has been hailed by The Times as ‘a phenomenon’ and they say Sofi Oksanen is ‘Finland’s hottest crime writer who will soon be as well-known as Stiefg Larsson’.  Purge is sold in an astonishing 38 territories, is a top 10 bestseller globally, winner of a number of literary awards and has been hailed as a ‘masterpiece’ in every language.
** What the back of the book says **
Deep in an Estonian forest, two women – one young, one old – are hiding.
Zara is a prostitute and a murderer, on the run from brutal captors, men who know about inflicting punishment.  Aliide offers refuge but not safety; she has her own secrets, traitorous crimes of passion and revenge committed long ago, during the country’s brutal Soviet years.
Both women have suffered lives of abuse.  But this time their survival depends on revealing the one thing history has taught them to keep safely hidden: the truth.
A haunting, intimate and gripping story of suspicion, betrayal and retribution against a backdrop of Soviet oppression and European war.

** What I thought  **
This is one of the hardest reviews I have had to write.  The book is heavily layered, and I am certain that even the slightest spoiler would do just that……spoil it! Therefore, I’m not going to reveal anything about the plotline itself.  But what I will say is that Sofi Oksanen takes you on an extremely powerful journey spanning 56 years in which suspicion and betrayal change the lives of those involved forever, and ultimately end in retribution.
The wonderful thing about this book is that you can become immersed in the subdued but intense and powerful writing.  The book contains some relatively explicit sexual violence in places.  I read one review which said that it wasn’t a problem that it existed, it was a problem that it wasn’t elegantly written.  But to me that IS the point, there isn’t anything elegant about sexual violence, so it shouldn’t be glossed over with an elegant style of writing.  Sofi Oksanen perfectly captures the brutality of the situation.
Despite the extremely serious issues confronted (sex-slave trade, soviet oppression, WWII, family betrayal) Oksanen makes the book personal and this draws you in.  The book spans from 1936 – 1992 and jumps back and forth to differing points between these time frames as Oksanen pieces the overlapping lives of the two women.  The pace is excellent, and it fits together extremely well. 
If I’m honest, I was never very good at history at school and so the background to this book wasn’t that familiar to me.  I don’t think this took too much away from it for me, although perhaps it may have been even better had I had a little more understanding.  Although it is a fairly major part of the book, it is also background to the lives of the central two women to the story and so it isn’t necessary for you to know every minor detail beforehand.  You learn as you go along, not only about their lives but also the history that has made them that way.
Initially I was a little underwhelmed with the ending.  However, I re-read the last few pages of the final narrative part (part 4) and actually it is incredibly clever with all the plans laid for everyone to end up in what Aliide thinks is their rightful place.  The book has a fifth part, which is made up of Top Secret Reports.  These left me a little confused, although they add a few minor details which piece together certain things, I thought they were unnecessary and I wish the book had ended with the narrative at part 4.
All in all, an intensely powerful read which is well worth it!

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