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The Purge, by Sofi Oksanen, a great Finnish novel

the purge

Actually, the writer Sofi Oksanen is of Estonian origin. And it is in Estonia that this magnificent novel is set.

I practice Linguistic Empathy and I expect you to do the same. Please bear with me if my English is not perfect.


It is a morning like many others for old Aliide, who spends her days cooking at her home in an Estonian village, preparing preserves, and fighting flies. Suddenly she realizes that there is a bundle in her garden: an unconscious woman full of bruises, whom Aliide welcomes into her house.

As the relationship between the two women develops, we discover the story of Aliide, closely intertwined with that of her country, and her past, her secrets. A story that unfolds slowly, with an increasingly urgent rhythm, fragmented by pieces from Zara’s past.

It is precisely the descriptions of what brought Zara to the garden of Aliide that opens up the hardness of the experiences that the two women, in different moments and for different reasons, had to face.

Sofi Oksanen has a descriptive capacity of rare impact. She tells of the preserves that Aliide prepares regularly with a meticulousness that makes us feel their smells, and the flavours; she describes the husband of Aliide, Martin, with a precision of physical details that arouses disgust; she tells unspeakable scenes of violence with an intensity that does not sacrifice the voice of the victim.

The novel starts from the present and unrolls the ribbon of the past with skill, gradually shifting the reader’s attention to Aliide and its secret, to make it the true protagonist of the story.

It is in fact through the eyes of Aliide when she was a girl that we begin to follow what happened to her and her sister, while the history of Estonia since the ’30s, with the Stalinist purges and the resistance of the Estonian partisans, is the background to the bitter stories that make up this wonderful novel.

Novel that was given to me by a Finnish colleague of my husband at our last party in Tuscany. I love it when people give a book of their country. In this case, actually, Estonia and not Finland is the protagonist country, but the clamor that Sofi Onaksen’s The Purge has provoked in Finland, and the success it has had (it has been translated into THIRTY THREE languages) tell a lot about Finnish literary tastes.

I also enjoyed reading the story of Sofi Oksanen, her involvement in the LGTB movement and her commitment to women.

I can only warmly recommend The Purge. A punch in the stomach, but one that once you have absorbed the pain, makes you think deeply.

Claudia Landini
February 2019

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