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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review: Purge by Sofi Oksanen

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat; 1 Tra edition (April 6, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0802170773
ISBN-13: 978-0802170774

Received: by Chinoseries 
Translated from Finnish to English

Synopsis: Goodreads (Purge)

When Aliide Truu, an older woman living alone in the Estonian countryside, finds a disheveled girl huddled in her front yard, she suppresses her misgivings and offers her shelter. Zara is a young sex-trafficking victim on the run from her captors, but a photo she carries with her soon makes it clear that her arrival at Aliide's home is no coincidence. Survivors both, Aliide and Zara engage in a complex arithmetic of suspicion and revelation to distill each other's motives; gradually, their stories emerge, the culmination of a tragic family drama of rivalry, lust, and loss that played out during the worst years of Estonia's Soviet occupation.

Aliide Truu an older woman living in the country of Estonia, lives isolated from her family and spends her days farming and dwelling on the past of what could have been. In her youth, her village was rampant with communist and fascist occupation along with European soldiers that inflicted terror and unspeakable accounts of abuse, horrifying incidents of violence and anguish against them.

Zara, a young sex-trafficking victim on the run from her captors. Her life filled with sexual abuse, exploitation, prostitution and physical abuse. She lands on the "doorstep" of Aliide Truu in the middle of the night, exhausted, filthy and injured.

This is a gritty, graphic, horrifying novel that is classified as historical/ political/ crime fiction. Initially conceived as a play in 2007.

Not told in chronological order. The story is told in short chapters told in a narrative and also via notebook entries. It moves back and forth in time through flashbacks ranging from the Soviet occupation of Estonia near the 1940's (WWII) to 1990's right after the break up of the Soviet Union.

Estonia, Russia. Serbia and Germany.

What I Liked:
The chapters were short like I prefer, which made me feel as if I was making progress as I read quickly through each chapter. I generally disliked Aliide and sometimes her personality made it difficult to empathize with her. She has a hard and stiff exterior, but as the story progresses you can see the pain and delicateness that lives within her that she is obviously trying to protect. She is also yearning for a man that does not want her, combined with all that anguish and abuse surrounding her, I could understand some of her actions, but I didn't agree with them. For instance, I would never betray my sister the way Aliide did, so that left me never fully liking her character.

Zara and Aliide share some of the same experiences unbeknownst to each other, but it is through the story and the flashbacks that we learn they share many of the same experiences, especially dealing with abuse, exploitation and the affects the war had on each of them. We also learn how strong Allide and Zara are as they manage to survive their ordeals by tolerating or accepting certain cruelties. We find that Zara landing on Aliide's doorstep is not by happenstance and I love how the importance of that relationship is revealed and how Aliide and Zara "purge" certain feelings of despair and emotional enslavement. I think the novel encapsulates how some victims survive atrocities inflicted upon them through catharsis and the closing of certain chapters in life they'd like to forget but can never change. Even when they themselves commit atrocities they regret in order to survive.

I think overall, Purge is a representation of eliminating shame felt by the horrific injustices inflicted upon people in society and how by confronting the past, they are able to release that shame, gain some closure and move forward. The best part was the account of how Zara escaped from her captors before she made it to Aliide's doorstep, it provides a riveting look into her survival and it helped the story gain some momentum. I cheered for Zara the entire time. I enjoy novels where women are put into dire situations and find a way out against all odds.

What I Didn't Like:
The novel is narrated and uses at times too much lyrical prose to describe one moment or one object. I much rather prefer historical accounts to be told in first person, it gives it more immediacy. Also, historical fiction doesn't have to be sing-song to be breathtaking. Aside from that, the novel was still somewhat engaging. Although the ending left a lot of unanswered questions and ended so abruptly, it left me disappointed. I don't know what happened Zara, the unknown fate of the woman I cheered for left me annoyed and angry. I tried to re-read the ending and still didn't gain any additional insight. So I guess I'll try to re-read again or just ask someone what happened. The last chapters were simply odd, the font changed, the tone changed, if I'm not mistaken I think they are KGB reports or wire transfers. Not sure. If someone else read it please clarify? There were also questions that never got answered, like how did Linda and her mother escape the camp? Were the KGP reports a foreshadowing of the disruption in the Soviet Union?

Certain themes were more prevalent than others, but there were many. The main themes being exploitation of women, sexual enslavement, war and the effects of war on women, politics, betrayal, redemption, oppression, freedom, jealousy and resentment.

Favorite quotes/excerpts
 “The walls have ears, and the ears have beautiful earrings.” 

4 Stars ****

Would've given 5 Stars had I not been confused at the end.


  1. I am glad that you enjoyed this read. Both Leeswammes and me were a bit baffled by the final part... they are probably secret documents, like you suggested, to fill in some of the blanks of the book. I don't think they're supposed to signal the end of the USSR though. I agree with you that many questions were just left hanging, quite unsatisfying :/

  2. Now see Lena, you made it sound interesting and all that then WHAM, (lol). I kinda want to but then I don't want to. You know. darn. I really don't want to be disappointed. You gave it 4 stars and that means something, so I will place it on my 2012 'bloggers recommend' book list. yes, I've started one already. I'm also doing a "challenge' to read books I don't usually read, once a month for six months. 2012.
    Love the review and your favorite line/quote from the book. Sounds like one I would have chosen too.
    Happy Reading

  3. I enjoyed it right up until the end. Then it was as if I were reading a different book. Threw me for a loop. Wondering if anyone knows what the ending means? I thought perhaps it may have been lost in translation. *shoulder shrug* I don't know. Otherwise, pretty good. Would like to see a film made based on the book and then perhaps I'll get an aha moment.

  4. This has been on my wishlist for too long. I only skimmed parts of your review as I don't want to be spoiled, but I can't wait to get a chance to read it!

  5. Very intriguing review- sounds like there is a powerful story in there (discouraging though to hear the ending is confusing). Always interesting to consider unlikeable characters- sometimes they stick with me longer than the likeable ones- they tend to be more thought-provoking.

  6. Sounds like an interesting but heavy story.

  7. Yes, the end was strange. I didn't really like that. The rest of the book was very interesting although I never warmed to either of the women.

    I thought it was nice to read about a country that I didn't know much about.

  8. Those kind of endings frustrate me to no end. Is there hope for a sequel?

  9. Oh I hate when a book falls apart at the end … especially one that sounds as involving and intense as this one.

  10. I like the sound of this book. I haven't heard of it, but 'gritty, graphic, horrifying novel' has me totally sold.

  11. I love the idea of a story like this one being told non-linearly, and I was especially intrigued by your mention of the notebook entries. I'm a sucker for fiction that features epistolary segments as part of the main narrative, so it looks like I'll have to try this one out! Thank you for this thoughtful, detailed review, Lena. :)


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I am a writer, filmmaker, wife and a mom of five beautiful, intelligent, quirky kids. This blog is for writers, aspiring writers, filmmakers and movie lovers. Bringing you my favorite books, films and photos, as well as giveaways and updates on my journey. I'm currently in the process of producing my first short film from my collection of short stories titled, If I Had My Way. The first story to be filmed will be Tandarin Drive. My award winning book, If I Had My Way, is available now. You can purchase a copy at and You may contact me via email at:

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