Purge, by Sofi Oksanen

I’ve recently completed an English translation of Purge (Puhdistus), by Sofi Oksanen, a gripping tale of secrets, shame, and danger, set in Estonia from the beginning of the Soviet era through the break-up of the early 90s. The translation will be published by Grove/Atlantic in April, and is available now for pre-order.

Purge has stirred an unusual amount of interest this past year, and will be published in 25 languages over the next few months. I love the book, and highly recommend it.

Here’s an excerpt:

Silence spread dark around her. The night was thickening. She took a few steps and stopped to stand in the yellow light of the lamp in the yard. Crickets were buzzing, the neighbors’ dogs barked. The white trunks of the birches shone dimly through the dark. She could see the peaceful fields through the chain-link fence, its mesh like tired eyes.
She inhaled so deeply that she felt a stab in her lungs like ice on a tooth. She had been wrong. The relief took her legs out from under her and she fell onto the steps with a thud.

No Pasha, no Lavrenti, no black car.

She turned her face toward the sky. That must be the Big Dipper. The same Big Dipper that you could see over Vladivostok, although this one looked different. Grandmother had looked at the Big Dipper from this same garden when she was young, the Big Dipper that looks like that one. Her grandmother—she had stood in the same place, in front of this same house, on the same stepping stones. The grass that tickled Zara’s foot was her grandmother’s touch and the wind in the apple trees was her grandmother’s whisper, and Zara felt like she was looking at the Big Dipper through her grandmother’s eyes, and when she turned her face back up toward the sky, she felt like her grandmother’s young body stood inside hers, and it ordered her to go back inside, to search for a story that she hadn’t been told.

Zara felt in her pocket. The photograph was still there.

More information at Grove/Atlantic.

More about Purge.

~ by lolarusa on December 8, 2009.

15 Responses to “Purge, by Sofi Oksanen”

  1. Can’t wait to read this…have you seen “The Singing Revolution”?


  2. I love “The Singing Revolution”. Some of the songs discussed in that film appear in this novel.

  3. This looks like a great book! Am so proud for you!

  4. Congratulations, you must be very proud!

  5. Maybe I should wait to be proud until a few more people have read it.

  6. I say start now with the pride.

  7. I’m curious what your thoughts are on the cover. Based on something my sister said to me recently, I’ve been thinking about cover art quite a bit.

  8. I think the cover design is striking and is a fairly good representation of any of several moments in the book. It’s difficult to guess how a person who had never read the book or heard of it would react to the cover. The intrique and danger of the story is captured, I think.

  9. I’m Estonian and I just finished reading it in Estonian. It’s historically very true. I was afraid to start reading it because I thought it might be offensive to me as an Estonian woman, but it wasn’t. As a child in USSR I never saw the negative and had a happy childhood, but reading about the rapes and things makes me angry. I like the picture it gives of Estonian men – as sweet and loving. This is not my experience because Estonian men never talk about their feelings.
    Will your translation be sold in UK?
    I’m interested in what more do you think about the book.

  10. Hello Triin,

    Thanks for giving an Estonian’s perspective about Purge. One thing I like about the book is its insight into how an ordinary person can be forced to commit evil acts in order to survive. I felt that I understood how that might happen in a new way from reading and translating this book.

    The translation will be published in the UK this summer.

  11. I’ve read Sofi Oksanen’s Purge = Puhdistus in my mother language, Finnish more than a year ago. The novel has received so far every prize in Scandinavia – quite rightfully so. Purge is a fantastic book, a master piece. The plot, time range, wonderful way how awful things are told in beautiful, effortless almost poem like text or lyrics that seem to illuminate everything. I personally would have chosen another quotation. The one where Zara’s grandmother and her sister meet Zara’s grandfather for the first time. Absolutely stunning – as the whole novel is. Anxiously waiting to read the translation in English!

  12. I’ve just finished Purge in Finnish. Whoa! What a story! I must say that i have been bit annoyed about the media buzz it has created here in Finland. So I was bit sceptic about the book. But boy was I wrong! I also would like to congratulate you for translating this book. It must have been hard since there are words that I don’t even know if they are actual finnish words. And the poetic language, it has it’s on rythm and atmosphere.

    I’ve been to Estonia once. No, actually twice, but I don’t count the time in 1988 when our cruse ship stood for a moment in some Estonia harbour a visit. All I could see was concrete harbour, rain and no people. I was 7.

    My sister had visited Viljandi on that summer with her school. The older boys from her school had burned an class room there, after playing with hair spray and a lighter. Her school wanted to pay for the damage, but some Soviet rule forbid this. She brought me funny looking soft toys as a gift. One was a bunny that smelled really strange. She told that she had washed her teeth with coca-cola ‘cos she was affraid that the Estonian water might have been filthy. Our parents sent condoms, pantyhose, toilet paper and other stuff to the family where my sister would stay during her visit. My sister was 12 and didn’t had the nerve to give the condoms to the family so she hid them under her bed. The children of the estonian family spoke quite fluent finnish ‘cos they’ve been watching finnish television. All these stories that my sister told and the sight of the gray concrete harbour and nobody on sight, fascinated me.

    But my only real visit to Estonia was so late as 2004. It was a weekend in Tallinn and surroundings. We where staying in our estonian friends apartment in the sub-urbs of Tallinn. (Actually he is russian, but didn’t want anybody to know about it ‘cos russians nowadays in estonia are the scum of the earth, so he acted to be estonian.) I ate cabbage pies and drank limonaad and talked to really nice estonians.

    The difference between the center of Tallinn and just bit outside the center is huge. Just few steps away from the beautiful old town where cute grannies sell flowers, there was a old flee market with people with guns, wild dogs and dusty streets, old buildings missing in a really bad shape. The center of tallinn was tall shiny buildings, casinos, bars, shops, drunken finnish people etc. quite a contrast. Our friend took us to see bit of the estonian country side. He showed us beautiful estonian grave yard in a forest and the russian grave yard beside a chemical factory. We saw some soviet factories that where blown up by the retrieving soviets. Only walls left. Some had a little bit of roof and pipes hanging from them. One buildings inside was covered with green moss like stuff. (It wasn’t moss, it was really strange green organism living there, i felt like i was in the simpsons or something.) And then in the middle of all this there was a finnish chemical factory slogan and a text “Don’t come nearer or we will shoot!”

    I think that even though estonia is nowadays independent it has still many issues to solve. Like the russian living there that have no citizenship, finnish coming and buying everything, ultracapitalism that has replaced communism and years and years of foreign occupation. Wounds that need to heal. And i think that this book might be a thing that heals a little bit of those wounds.

  13. Thanks for your vivid comment, Lars.

  14. I tried to read this book in English but the sheer amount of questionable grammar and clunky sentences soon stopped me. Tense flipped back and forth within the same sentence and commas were just thrown in randomly it seemed.

  15. Hi Mart,

    Thanks for you comment. I like getting feedback about the translation itself, I so rarely do. Can you give some examples of which passages you felt were questionable? I’d like to know exactly which passages you mean so I can look at them and see if I can tell what you’re talking about.


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