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Sofia Oksanen (Black Cat)

Aliide Truu is an elderly woman living alone on a farmhouse in rural Estonia. When Zara, a “[m]uddy, ragged, and bedraggled” girl” fleeing her abusers hides on Aliide’s property, the two women intrinsically identify the other’s survival impulse and slowly recognize a shared history. The elder has survived historical occupation of her nation by Soviet Russia, its personal violence, which contrasts the younger’s suffering of contemporary violations at the hands of Russian sex traffickers. But Oksanen doesn’t cheaply celebrate survival, rather she portrays the instinct’s overcompensation, namely in the form of Aliide. The urge to strike, to punish, spikes the character’s thoughts and complicates her route to reconciliation. In this translation by Lola Rogers, Oksanen’s alliterative and formal phrasing comes across as a classic storybook or grim, grim fairytale crossed with a psychological thriller. In the end, Purge adds to the growing tradition of post-Soviet or re-independence storytelling in books, film and plays.

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