neljapäev, detsember 06, 2012

purged

The singer, not the song.
It's been a while since I read Purge, and it was not an easy book for me to read. Sometimes books are like that, they come to you and then you flip through a few pages and put them on your shelf, beside all those other books you would like to read. Then one morning you pick it up when you are on the way to the WC, and finish it later that afternoon. Purge was one of these kinds of books.

Of course, my expectations were too high. I saw Oksanen's face in so many places, I began to wonder if was my own face, or just another one of my many faces. She has an image though. At the Helsinki Book Fair last month, it towered over the many sellers and booths, the poster of Oksanen. I walked into a vast exhibition and convention center, face to face with Angry Birds and whatever else, but all I could see was a giant Oksanen looming in the distance. Did she have another book coming out? I wasn't sure. What was most important was that she existed and was perhaps writing something new.

So I had my expectations. I cannot say that I loved the book, or understand its success. Still, 99 percent of the books available at the local shop aren't worthy of one's time, so something like this, a historical drama with pregnant themes shines through the shit. And I also cannot deny that Purge touched me in some way, or at least it has stayed with me. I can remember most of the characters, my images of them, their relationships to one another, the scenery. It's certainly like a film, and when I was informed that it was originally written as a play, it made perfect sense.

Yet something about the characters deeply annoyed me. One of the main story lines in the book was Aliide's deep affection for her brother-in-law Hans. And by the end of the book, I still couldn't see what she saw in the guy. Sure, it takes place many years ago, so perhaps this elementary school tale of unrequited love and jealousy could have played out between grown adults, but so many times I just wanted to reach through the pages and shake the young Aliide and maybe throw a glass of cold water in her face and say, "Stop being so naive!" My own cynicism prevented me from relating to such a story.

The character Zara seemed equally as naive. I think we all smelled sexual slavery the minute her friend in Vladivostock started to chat her up about promising opportunities in the West. I have known plenty of such naive young people in my life, perhaps once was one, and can believe in such turns of events. But as a reader, as someone in the story, I could not invest my emotions in such circumstances. Was it more tragic that she was a prostitute or that she was duped into becoming one?

Something about this book reminded me of DH Lawrence, or the half of Lady Chatterley's Lover I read before I put that down (and still haven't retrieved it on the way to the WC). Perhaps it was the relative powerlessness of the female characters, and how the external world, represented by male characters, fenced in their decisions, their lives. Constance Chatterley goes from Clifford Chatterley to Mellors, the gamekeeper. Her life is defined by her relationships to two very different men. Aliide's world is, again, defined by her relationships to two different men -- her brother-in-law Hans Pekk and her husband Martin Truu. And Zara is actually a slave to men -- to her pimp and his clients. Was James Brown right when he sang, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World"? And here I am, living in Estonian matriarchy, thinking it's always been the other way around.

Anyway, let's contrast that with Oksanen, a woman whose life is now fenced in not by men, but by the overwhelming success of this novel, and who will spend the rest of her writing career trying to live up to those great expectations, or trying to distance herself from it. It's a phenomenon I have known at a much smaller scale. I would love to read a book about a character like Oksanen. Maybe she could write one. Or maybe that would be a little bit too much like Reality TV.

15 kommentaari:

sofie ütles ...

" I would love to read a book about a character like Oksanen. Maybe she could write one. "
- well, she has. "Stalin's Cows".

Giustino ütles ...

No English translation yet. We do have Stalini lehmad in the home office. I'll give it a look. And thanks!

Eppppp ütles ...

Yep, this is an autobiographic book and we have it, take a look.

Marizza ütles ...

I agree with you on the "Purge". Despite being an Estonian woman, I could not relate myself to the characters. They were too naive for my taste and cynical understanding.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

I know. It is hard for me to relate to a jewish looking estonian woman who is a finn.

I have not met her, maybe she'd swipe me off my feet then ...

Thank you for the book review.

Scratching it off my to do list right away ... scrolling way-way down ... oops, it is not even here!

So we are all good. :-)

Kristopher ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Kristopher ütles ...

I have not read her, but I will. Kross, too. New Year's resolution. Her personality is certainly over the top. I tend to like my writers not to analyze their own symbolism and motivations, and prefer them to be recluses and ciphers, but that of course does not detract from her work.

Give me Pens ütles ...

From an outsider's standpoint (being Singaporean mind you), I found Purge a book that makes Estonia sound like the not-up-to-Western-European standards that people tend to see Estonia as. The book is slow - very historical-based and very unrelatable. It's just like Taken filmed in a historical era.

Give me Pens ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Bea ütles ...

Is she more serious than the Lithuanian American Ruta Sepetys and her Between Shades of Grey? I suddenly thought about comparing them as some Baltic "things" being sold to make people of the rest of the EU and the USA know slightly more about the Baltic countries.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, Oksanen obviously is not very likeable, but she is a genuinely good writer. I found "Purge" quite dark, but I don't think her purpose was to be a comprehensive historian of the recent Estonian past, but to highlight some strains, rather universally (and no doubt also, in some sense, one-sidedly).

Among our popular intellectuals she is very unique in stressing also Stalinist crimes - her publishing firm recently reissued Archipelago Gulag in Finland (it's been selling crazily, so that's against her, but anyway).

These things seem bit embarrasing for Estonians, so post-Sovjet, so last season, and for example Guistino would prefer to forget all these unpleasantries and focus in the high-tech future, but I don't know how one could get rid of such events, such traumas without confronting them first, and confronting them very squarely.

It seems also a popular reaction to claim that Oksanen is exploiting Estonian history for Western audiences and private gain. This seems totally false to me. She is a serious and talented writer, and obviously her personal background, personal history has been psychologically very important for her. (Her main crime probably is her success - not easily forgiven in our Lutheran-janteish Balto-Scandian lands...)

Marko ütles ...

What some of you people forget is that it's fiction. Not to say that any of it did not happen, but its gonna sit on the shelf between Fifty Shades of Gray and Casual Vacancy.

The 'Estonia reference' to it is absolutely irrelevant. These thing happened all over the place at that time. But I suppose how you deal with it, is different. Is this our revival of the era in form of books and films? (Like the Germany's 1990's with Schindler's List topping charts, etc.) Nope, I don't think so.

Temesta ütles ...

I didn't know that the Estonian public has a problem with the book, it seems that Oksanen is very popular here. I only read about some intellectuals criticizing the book. Jaan Kaplinski for example.

http://jaankaplinski.blogspot.com/2010/08/sofi-oksanen-and-stalin-award.html

Timbu ütles ...

I think the book has some good points... like explaining why most of the old people who I saw as a kid were kind of crazy. I learned not long ago that our neighbor had been one of the deporters. He'd later get drunk on paydays and turn into a roaring monster behind the wall (kept me away from alcohol for a long time). And my grandma wasn't happy when we played with children of "wrong parents" or spent time outside home, since she thought there was a rapist behind every corner, etc. etc. I wonder how much of the craziness is hereditary?

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Is "crazyness" hereditary?

If a father rejects the covenant of God and takes his family into sin and rejects God, the children will suffer the consequences, often for several generations.

The contemporary Estonian society suffers massively from this syndrome.

There is simply too much blood on people's hands and very few have asked for any kind of forgiveness.

The best we can hope for is a fish-eye look and a angry mumble: "jah, ma vabandan" ...

A cruel mockery instead of a healing that this sick nation really needs.

Hereditary? Sure is if you don't reject it yourself and cast it off to be free.