International acclaim for Sofi Oksanen’s Purge annoys some in Estonia
Journalist Piret Tali: ”Estonia is about to become a theme park for foreign writers who want to write about their angst”
The more accolades the novel Purge (Puhdistus in Finnish) by Finnish author Sofi Oksanen receives, the stronger people tend to protest against the novel in the country where the events of the book are staged - Estonia.
Some Estonian intellectuals are annoyed by Purge, saying that the image of Estonia created by the award-winning and bestselling novel is likely to become the prevailing truth of the country and its history.
This week journalist Piret Tali slates Purge in her column in the Estonian daily newspaper Eesti Päevaleht:
”The international brand (what else?) is likely to explain why the Estonians seem to believe that Purge - in which four to five people are killed (one farmer, one high-ranking mafioso, two pimps, plus one suicide), communists rape repeatedly two women and one underage girl, and five or six scenes show how an Estonia-born girl from Vladivostok who is becoming a prostitute is violated - is exactly the one book that can lance all the wounds to our soul and report on Estonian history just as it is?”
According to Piret Tali, Purge confirms the image of Estonia, which is why Estonians still have to see themselves as Eastern European whores onboard the Finnish ferries and in the nightclubs of hotels.
This is why the novel is not opposed to violence against women, but instead it may increase violence against women.
Tali does not give Purge any credit, comparing the novel with the gutter press that wallows in violence.
At the same time, she regrets that the novels written by Estonian authors Viivi Luik, Leelo Tungal, and Ene Mihkelson on the horror years of the 1940s and 1950s have not received appreciation that could be compared with that ladled out to Purge - not even in their home country.
Tali says that Estonia is becoming a theme park for foreign writers who draw from the country’s distressing themes, including angst, depression, poverty, betrayal, violence, and so on.
Previously Sofi Oksanen was treated as a national hero in Estonia.
In 2009, the largest daily Estonian newspaper Postimees named Oksanen its Person of the Year, and in 2010 the Estonian President Toomas Ilves decorated Sofi Oksanen with the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana IV Class.
Nevertheless, critics have not always treated Purge with unreserved enthusiasm.
The culture magazine Sirp warned earlier this year that Purge should not be regarded as telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but about Estonia.
This concern seems to have become stronger when Purge has received international recognition.
Author Jaan Kaplinski notes in his blog that he was disappointed with Purge. ”Life in the Estonian SSR was much more than a horror story. Life in the ESSR was also life”, Kaplinski writes.
Piret Tali’s column in Eesti Päevaleht this week has received positive feedback from well-known online commentators.
Reporter Mart Ummelas pointed out that those who write about history should also see some less dark shades in the Soviet era and some black spots in the present time as well.
Historian and Member of Parliament Lauri Vahatre called for stories about resistance put up by Estonians.
Film director Ilmar Raag noted:”Could we not do something in order that Purge would not be the only internationally-recognised narrative on the Estonian people? We should write a new bestseller on another topic.”
Previously in HS International Edition:
Hundreds of listeners and a handful of protesters attend publication of book on Estonia (24.3.2009)
France´s largest bookstore chain acknowledges Sofi Oksanen (19.8.2010)
Finlandia Prize goes to Sofi Oksanen and portrait of Estonia under Soviet occupation (5.12.2008)
Sofi Oksanen commissioned to write new play for National Theatre (19.5.2010)
Sofi Oksanen named Person of the Year in Estonia (18.12.2009)
Sofi Oksanen moves to new publishers Teos (10.9.2010)
Sofi Oksanen (Wikipedia)
Sofi Oksanen personal website