Purge/Sofi Oksanen: Reflections

Friday, December 31, 2010

I end this year privileged with time—time to read and to reflect, time to walk and to spend an afternoon, and then again an evening, with friends.

I take no ounce of time for granted.

This afternoon, in the quiet of my family room, I finished reading Purge, the international bestseller by Sofi Oksanen.  It is a story that begins with a fly in an old woman's house—a dirty fly, an invincible fly, a bother.  Aliide Truu would like to kill that fly, but soon something more distracting has entered her view—a hump or lump of something crumpled at the foot of the birch outside.  Aliide has had plenty to fear in life and she is, by some, despised, and it takes her a long time to decide to investigate that lump.  It takes her even longer to decide what to do after she realizes that the lump is a girl—battered, bruised, torn, filthy. A girl at the base of the birch.  Her name is Zara.  She is, Aliide will learn in time, a victim of the sex-trafficking trade and, more than that, a girl with a tie to Aliide's own sorted and shameful past.

Aliide and Zara, then, are the protagonists of this haunting book—two women whose lives have been defined by politics and treason.  Aliide, for her part, is the victim of those wretched forces of oppression that ruled Estonia for much of the 1940s; she is also the victim of her own lust for her sister's husband.  Zara is the victim of her own innocence and desire:  promised money for a job she did not understand, she took the bait, and suffered.  Is there any rescue left in these two women?  Can they save each other, or themselves?  Working with snatches of stories and letters and reports, Oksanen goes back and forth in time, exposing horrors, incriminating, exculpating, braiding these lives around each other.  She is not seeking quiet lyricism on these pages, simple entanglements.  Instead, she is pulling back the curtains on a part of the world, and a chapter of history, that I for one knew little of. 

Pay attention, Oksanen says.  There are women being brutalized by sex trafficking, even today.  There are people living with facsimiles of themselves, impossible regrets.  There are landscapes terribly unknown to us and wars we haven't studied.  Open the book, and read.  Taking nothing at all for granted.


Priya said...

Happy New Year, Beth!

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