by Sofi Oksanen
Finnish-born Sofi Oksanen is one of the more striking novelists around, both on and off the page. Pale and gothic in appearance, her black, dreadlocked hair is interwoven with blue and purple strands. Her writing too is a fusion - of voices, tones, time periods and places. The titular purge harks back to Stalin, and in particular the forced deportations (and worse) of alleged Estonian collaborators with Hitler during the second world war. The plot starts in 1992, when 60-year-old Aliide is fighting a land restitution case, and suffering the sticks and stones of her neighbours who despise her communist past. Then she meets Zara, a prostitute from Vladivostok on the run from the brutal gang that kept her as a sex slave. The two women form a tentative bond that propels both back in time: Zara's grandmother, a victim of Stalin's purge, was sent to Siberia; Aliide recalls the Soviet occupation after the defeat of the Nazis. Aliide and her sister, Inge, were raped and tortured by Red Army soldiers. For Oksanen history is circular: violent sexual genocide gives way to a different kind of purging, something approaching, if never quite reaching, redemption. It is brutal stuff but compelling.