Purge by Sofi Oksanen

Purge

I have an affinity to books where the characters outshine the storyline. Such volumes craft a distinct memory that never seems to fade for years creating an imaginary bond with those characters; experiencing their pain and suffrage through your smallest nerves.Zara and Aliide will never die away from my mind as long as I will remember.

‘Purge’ is not a book about bulimia or anorexia. It is a metaphor for all those sinister culpabilities that an individual buries within his/her heart until the moment of truth where it all erupts like smoldering lava destroying every possibility of tranquility. Oksanen puts forth a riveting account of human lives that are trapped in a web of uncouth circumstances and repelling emotions making the cost of survival nauseating and demeaning.

Set in the early 1990s,the book is structured into five parts each going back and forth in time connecting the lives of the two women. Estonia a few years shy to reclaiming its independence (the last Russian troops left on August 31, 1994) was under the communist rule of the Soviet. Poverty, unemployment raked throughout the country’s landscape creating a spate of thefts and squalor. Aliide Truu, an elderly woman spent her days preserving candied fruits and cultivating her modest vegetable farm whilst waiting for the weekly visits from her daughter Talvi. The nights were frightening to Aliide as it went by trying to evade the local hooligans from stoning and robbing her tattered home. On one such night, there was a shadow lurking on Aliide’s front yard. It was a hapless young woman, battered, abused, writhing in fear and pain. She was a Russian who spoke broken Estonian and her name was Zara. The sudden intrusion of a stranger in Aliide’s life was about to open her convoluted past, resurfacing the buried disgrace and guilt.

Zara:- Zara lived a recluse and impoverished life with her grandmother and mother. Her grandmother Ingel rarely speaks, so does her mother Linda. Her desire to bring financial security to her family leads her into a network of prostitution and sexual slavery.

“Over the past year she had forgotten all the normal ways of being with people — how to get to know a person, how to have a conversation — and she couldn’t think of a segue to break the silence.”

Terrified with the unfortunate events Zara finally escapes from her pimps and finds shelter in Aliide’s home. Zara coming to Aliide is not a mere concurrence. The photograph that Zara carried when she left her home was the thread that connected Aliide and Zara, revealing a torrent of uncultivated relations.

Zara’s characterization throws a light on the tedious circumstances that Eastern Europe endured in the early 1990s. The political pandemonium and deteriorating economical landscapes led to vast immigration and impecunious survival. The silence that prevailed over Ingel or Linda was suffocating making you wonder about the immense torture that a human heart endures, coercing it to find refuge in a vacuumed world. The packed suitcases, the trembling with slightest clatter portrayed the acute fear that thrives within the victims of war.

Aliide:- Aliide could never comprehend the jealousy she nurtured for her elder sister for marrying her bashful love-Hans. All through her life she was the ‘black sheep’; the ugly duckling failing to be a swan. Her life in the 1940s was propelled in a vortex of wrecked dreams, war, deportation and the sudden disappearance of her parents. What distressed Aliide was losing her only love Hans to her elder sister. Thus, began an inundation of sheer vengeance and wrong doings in order to pacify the agitated broken soul. The entry of Zara into her life created a flutter, throwing Aliide into a muddle of endless shame and remorse which she had buried long ago.

Aliide resembles the many, who out of fallacious sentiments step into untoward verdicts and regretting it forever. Aliide loved her sister dearly, but the ignominy that engulfed her soul restricted her from making amends and ending her solitude.

Oksanen has an incredible quality of cautiously peeling the human mind-set exposing every layer of reckless choices and heartfelt redemptions.

It is a common occurrence to see a translated script losing its strength and significance; Purge banishes all these fears with Lola Rogers doing an excellent job, restoring Oksanen’s depiction of Estonian spirit and history.

4/5****

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