Estonian Foreign Minister weighs in in defence of Sofi Oksanen’s Purge
The Foreign Minister says that the work deals with events that have really happened, but author Kaplinski charges that Purge should be read as a fictional detective story
Estonia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet says that he has given Sofi Oksanen’s Purge, mostly set in Estonia, as a present to many of his Foreign Minister colleagues.
He does not understand the criticism that claims that the image of Estonia created by the award-winning and bestselling novel is too depressive.
”No reason for distress”, Paet says.
The Foreign Minister is convinced that Purge will help people to understand even those current problems of Estonia that may be difficult to figure out in the West.
"Purge is fiction about things that have really happened in Estonia”, Paet notes.
Earlier this week journalist Piret Tali slated Purge in her column in the Estonian daily newspaper Eesti Päevaleht.
Piret Tali feared that the description of violence and agony in Estonia could become the prevailing truth of the country and its history.
She also said that the book could create an image of Estonian women as Eastern European whores.
Some Estonian intellectuals have also expressed cautious concerns, which seem to have become stronger when Purge has received international recognition.
”It is just petty-bourgeois fear for what kind of impression we give about our country abroad. As a phenomenon it is similar to the one felt in Finland over Aki Kaurismäki’s films giving the 'wrong' image of Finns and their character”, says theatre critic Andres Laasik, who has praised Purge both as a play and as a novel.
”I guess it is typical both in Finland and Estonia that if someone is suddenly successful, other people become very concerned”, says politician and historian Mart Laar, who was the Prime Minister of Estonia from 1992 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2002.
”Estonian history has been very bloody and gloomy. One cannot do anything about it”, Laar notes.
In addition to being a politician, Laar himself has written a lot about the Forest Brothers anti-Soviet resistance movement struggling against the Russian occupation still in the 1950s.
”I have heard a lot about what happened to their mothers, sisters, and daughters. Very little has been written about the fates of Estonian women”, Laar adds.
One of the most distinguished critics of Oksanen’s novel is author Jaan Kaplinski.
”It is an excellent detective story, but it does not depict life in the Estonian SSR as it was, the same way as Agathe Christie’s books do not tell about life in Great Britain”, Kaplinski argues.
”The problem is that many people both in Estonia and abroad read the book as if it were a realistic description of the ESSR. Even the author herself presents the work as such”, Kaplinski adds.
Kaplinski’s father died in a prison camp, and the son has written about the topic.
The debate on Purge in Eesti Päevaleht continued on Thursday.
Translator and reporter Kaisa Kaer pointed out that literature does not need to contain the historical truth.
”The merit of Sofi Oksanen is that she rouses people to familiarise themselves with their understanding of history and to ask questions”, Kaisa Kaer noted.
”When it comes to Finland, the works of Kaurismäki and author Arto Paasilinna are well-known worldwide. The public tries to understand that they are films, or that they are novels. The author or artist is no tourist guide”, Sofi Oksanen responded to the criticisms being expressed in Estonia.
Previously in HS International Edition:
International acclaim for Sofi Oksanen´s Purge annoys some in Estonia (7.10.2010)