From the acclaimed author of Purge ("a stirring and humane work of art" —The New Republic) comes a riveting, chillingly relevant new novel of occupation, resistance, and collaboration in Eastern Europe.
1941: In Communist-ruled, war-ravaged Estonia, two men are fleeing from the Red Army - Roland, a fiercely principled freedom fighter, and his slippery cousin Edgar. When the Germans arrive, Roland goes into hiding; Edgar abandons his unhappy wife, Juudit, and takes on a new identity as a loyal supporter of the Nazi regime ... 1963: Estonia is again under Communist control, independence even further out of reach behind the Iron Curtain. Edgar is now a Soviet apparatchik, desperate to hide the secrets of his past life and stay close to those in power. But his fate remains entangled with Roland's, and with Juudit, who may hold the key to uncovering the truth ...
Great acts of deception and heroism collide in this masterful story of surveillance, passion, and betrayal, as Sofi Oksanen brings to life the frailty - and the resilience - of humanity under the shadow of tyranny.
A to Z around the world personal challenge -E is for Estonia
Technically, Sofi Oksanen is Finnish but she has Estonian origins and the novel is set there. As such, I allowed myself to change her location for my purposes.
I have to admit that I’ve always struggled to remember which of the three small Baltic countries (Estonia, Lithuania and Letonia) is which and what are their capitals. Well, no more, I will get at least one right. I believe reading a book about a country’s history helps to become more familiar to its culture. I researched the country’s map and other information on Wikipedia which printed some basic details in my head. Also, it made me want to visit the country in the near future and I am confident that the experience will be more fulfilling because I read this book.
Estonias had a difficult time during the 2nd WW2 and after. They were occupied by the Russians in 1940 then by the German army In 1941 until 1945 when they were again taken over by the soviets. Unfortunately, the Russian occupation lasted until 1991. This novel is set in two timelines: the first one covers the period during the WW2 and the difficult transition from one tyrant to another ,while the other, in the 60’ , deals with the people struggles to try to obtain independence.
There are three main characters in this novel, each different in personality and aims. Juudit is an unhappy woman, with a unconsumed marriage, abandoned by her husband and struggling to find a sense in her life. She might not make the best decision, falling in love with a German military, but I could not blame her either. Edgar, is her vile, despicable, chameleonic husband whose strives to do well for himself and be noted by the authorities, no matter who was in charge of the country. He did that by lying and betraying everyone if it suited his goals. It was one the characters I despised the most from my recent reads as I can still find osme similar traits in some of our politicians. Lastly, there is Roland, Edgar’s cousin, the patriot who tries to help his country towards the road of independence. Both Juudit and Edgar were well developed by the author but I felt the other characters, including Roland, were not as carefully crafted.
The atmosphere is bleak and oppressive although there aren’t a lot of graphic details. The part of the novel set in the 60’ reminds me of my country during the communism and the paranoia that someone was listening to everything you were saying (true most of the time) and the fear that your actions could not be approved by the regime. Arghh, although I was small before the revolution and don’t remember much, every time I read about this state of being it gives me goose bumps.
The author’s best known work is called Purge which I heard is more graphic. So, If you are more sensitive and want to read about Estonia, this is a good choice.
La novela nos sumerge en el clima claustrofóbico de un país sometido: Estonia, en la década del '40 durante la ocupación alemana y en la del '60 durante la ocupación soviética. La cruda historia del pequeño país báltico es, a su vez, el trasfondo de la historia de tres personajes: Roland, Edgar y Juudit, cuyos pensamientos, egoísmo y secretos inconfesables quedarán expuestos. Y ahí radica la verdadera riqueza de esta historia. En la crudeza y la poesía con que Sofi espía el alma de sus personajes y la expone a la luz. El alma humana y el alma de Estonia, por supuesto. La Estonia que lucha, furiosa, entre la rebelión y la adaptación, entre los que pierden y los nuevos autores de la Historia, entre la dignidad y la propia supervivencia.
Hay una permanente alternancia entre los '40 y lo´60 (dos épocas intercaladas. Bueno. Somos lectores, podemos con eso) Hay una alternancia entre narradores. En realidad entre la voz narrativa de uno de los personajes y la tercera persona (Somos lectores. Un poco más confundidos) La historia no se cuenta abiertamente, se deja traslucir (Somos lectores, al borde de la desesperación armando un puzzle) En conjunto, puede volverse tedioso, no hay duda. Hay que estar atentos y disfrutar de la incomodidad que genera tanto la forma de narrar como el contenido.
Si la historia la escriben los que ganan, la autora finlandesa sabrá ponernos en lugar de esos que escriben la historia para los que ganaron. Y sin la mínima culpa, la cambian todas las veces que sea necesario. Porque la "posverdad" no es un invento tan moderno, después de todo.
Maybe this book won't make you angry. Maybe you'll tell yourself that it's only a novel, that the characters in it weren't real people, that none of it ever happened, that it's exaggerated or sensationalist, that it wasn't really the way it's described here.
It would be nice to believe that, and I suppose that in some narrow technical sense it is just fiction. But if we neglect details about names and dates, I'm pretty sure that it's all true. This is what evil looks like. It's a word many people today are reluctant to use. It sounds so judgemental. We shouldn't be judgemental, should we? People are weak. Bad things happen, they react without thinking, you might have done the same, we should try to understand and forgive.
Well, there's something to that. For example, suppose you're an attractive young woman in early 1940s Estonia who's trapped in a loveless marriage with a complete shit who's moreover disappeared. Your country was first invaded by the pitiless Soviets, who killed and deported tens of thousands of you. Now the Germans have arrived. They have some ideas about the Jews that you do your best not to think about, but they're civilised and polite. You meet a handsome, charming, successful SS officer who's as smitten with you as you are with him. It's surely not so terrible to get involved. Doesn't the world owe you a little happiness?
Of course, Juudit knows that what she's doing is wrong, and sometime she'll pay for it. Really, she should be helping Roland, the heroic underground resistance fighter who risks his life every day in the service of his country. It's just that it's so damn difficult, and Roland is both scary and kind of boring. Anyway, she does help him sometimes. It would be ridiculous to call her evil. A few of us are like Roland, who instinctively does the right thing no matter what it costs, but a lot more are like Juudit, who would like to do the right thing, and actually does do the right thing quite a lot of the time, but is too confused to get her act together. Most of us are in the middle with Juudit, not very good but not very bad either.
And then there are also a few people at the other end of the spectrum who are like Edgar, Juudith's estranged husband. They aren't weak or confused. They apply their intelligence to the situation and analytically decide how to make the best of it. They exploit their language skills to work with the Nazis while they're in change, and they do their best to rise to a position of power and responsibility and become someone. But they plan ahead, because nothing is forever, and when the Soviets come back they're prepared. They switch over seamlessly to becoming good Communist citizens, and they rise to positions of power and responsibility there too. One or two of them even get to write the official histories of the Nazi occupation. You find out early in this book that that's what's going to happen to Edgar, but it's still shocking and horrifying to see how the process works out.
Well, maybe some readers are still inclined to understand and forgive. But I think the word "evil" is quite useful, and it's absolutely the most straightforward way to describe a person like Edgar. Read this book, and you'll be more sensitised to what evil looks like. You might even find that useful someday in your own life. Things are happening right now that aren't as dramatic as the Soviet and Nazi occupations of Estonia, but maybe they aren't completely unlike them either.
Thank you, Sofi Oksanen. And I'm sorry it took me so long to discover what happened to your country. For ten years, I lived just the other side of the water, in safe Sweden, and I never even bothered to find out. I'm ashamed.
Sofi Oksanen is without a doubt one of the best Finnish contemporary authors, perhaps one of the greatest overall, too. Her prose is beautiful: the language is alive, it is never static or boring but always manages to describe the situation perfectly. It is a pleasure to read her books, every page is like an artwork but without being too complicated to understand.
I loved this book even more than I loved Puhdistus and cannot understand why it has received so much criticism. I think the characters were very interesting, right from the start I wanted to know what will happen to them. I loved Roland, wanted to know more and more about Juudit, and followed in disgusted fascination how Edgar managed to play his cards and survive time after time. The intervening relationships of the characters held my interest until the very end.
I also loved the way the book was constructed: how the narration from 1940s and 1960s alternated, creating a mystery that kept me glued to the book. I already knew there were going to be surprises at the end but still I couldn't figure them out until I'd actually read them. Brillian, brilliant work.
The themes of this book are gigantic. It was very intereting to read about Estonia's history, about the Germans and the Soviet troops, about a small land's longing for independece. I liked the contrast between Helmut and Juudit's love story and the way Helmut was in charge of the camps, for example, and also the contrast between the way the Germans were first seen as liberators and then as killers, and how Soviet's troops weren't any better. All in all, this is a grim book that unveils terrible events of the history of my neighbouring country. All I could think about was "Thank God this didn't happen to Finland".
I hope this book will be translated to other languages as well - it is one of the best Finnish books I've ever read and I can recommend it to you all.
I hate leaving books unfinished but I've been reading this for a while and frankly, I'm a little lost. I'm off to read Purge instead! Maybe I'll Finnish this some other day (I couldn't stop myself, I am sorry).
Dark, unsettling, and captures the bleakness and paranoia of soviet times quite well, as well as the brief German occupation. Not altogether successful for me in terms of character believability, and at times the pacing lagged. I loved the historical content and the significance of Tallin’s and Estonia’s changing name. Uneven overall, but enjoyable.
Estonia is a small country at the head of the Baltic Sea, its inhabitants speak a language related to no other in Europe save Finnish. Ruled successively by the Danes, Swedes and Russians, it enjoyed 20 years of independence after WW1 before being crushed between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. It is independent once again having broken away from the USSR in 1991.
This book is set during the Second World War and continues into the sixties, picking up the wars aftermath. Central to the book are three characters, two cousins and the wife of one of them.
One of the men is a chameleon, able to fit in equally as a communist apparatchik and a quisling for the Nazis. His life is a round of lies, cheating, stealing and deceit as he manoeuvres to ingratiate himself with the power of the day. He is happy to betray others if it enables him to please his masters. People die because of his actions.
His cousin is a shadowy figure, intensely patriotic, idealistic and not a little naïve. He joins the resistance against the Germans and the Forest Brothers as they embark on a futile attempt to stop the reinstatement of Soviet rule.
In the middle is the quislings wife. She finds a way to prosper during the German occupation but is broken by the experience and the constant fear of exposure. She works for both sides in the occupation and could easily be banished to Siberia.
The ending is exquisite as we find out the answer to a twenty year mystery and a new generation is set to be punished for the sins of their forefathers.
A novel exploring what it is to survive and make accommodation in almost impossible circumstances. I enjoyed it very much.
Not as good as Purge. This one was a bit uneven and the characters hard to get into. Roland is the partisan, Edgar is a collaborator, forger, chameleon and general bad guy and Juudit, Edgar's wife is tossed between what side of Estonia she should be supporting. The interest in this book is the way Estonians had to handle the Russians, then the Germans, then the Russians again. Collaborators one day, traitors the next. Friends become enemies. The stress on the people must have been immense and this confusion is the highlight in this novel.
Poland, France, Germany, North Africa, Japan - so much of WWII is familiar territory. But Estonia? I knew generally where in the world it exists, so could find it on a map, though I wouldn't have been able to point to it immediately. I can now. First occupied by the Bolsheviks, Estonians were generally relieved when Germany arrived and occupied their country. There was, however, a small contingent of freedom fighters who immediately recognized one tyranny is not better than another.
This is the story both of the occupation by Germany, but also by the Soviets. There are three main characters (Roland, Juudit, Edgar), with a fourth (Evelin) added late in the novel. The novel opens in the first person, with no background. I had to be on high alert just to figure out what was going on, who might be speaking, and in what situation I found myself. This became clearer after about 25 pages, and I settled in. The narrative does not continue in the first person, although his character does return occasionally. The narratives of the others are told in the third person limited. In each section, we are privy to one character's thoughts and feelings, but not the others.
Most of the novel we are with Edgar. He is weak and insecure, always seeking approval, always feeling inadequate, yet with delusions that his hidden talents will be recognized fully and he will become famous and highly regarded. It is a very chilling characterization and done very well. He is not evil in any overtly criminal or cruel way, but instead quietly and deceptively insidious.
There is a bit of mystery, as so much is not revealed to us. Part of the novel takes place in the war years, the rest in the early 1960s. What happened during the intervening years? Why was Evelin introduced and how does she connect to the others? As in the beginning where I wasn't sure what was happening, I had to be alert throughout, to pick up on various remarks and clues.
I will happily read others by this author, but she writes about things that I am not easily drawn to. For that reason only, and not by any fault of the author, I probably won't just rush out to read another. Still, this sits on the line between 4- and 5-stars, and I'm not ashamed to rate it on the higher end.
Estonia torn by second world war, through the eyes of three characters, representing three different ways of life. Enjoyed historical aspect the most, seeing a country collaborating with Hitler while here in Poland that was basically always out of question, also due to Nazi Germany politics, was deeply engaging. Oksanen has very smooth almost melodic way of writing, yet it's quite sentimental and the latter bothered a bit. She writes female characters well, those feel real and complex, while male characters are a bit larger than life, a bit cartoonish at times. Nevertheless its a good book with valid and very current theme, taking into account Russian activities in the region, of a country struggling to keep independence among hostile powers and ideologies.
"In 1940, Estonia was occupied and illegally annexed by the Soviet Union as a result of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. During the war Estonia was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, then reoccupied by the Soviet Union in 1944. Estonia regained independence in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR." that is taken directly from Wiki.
What was it like living in the country then? That is what this book is about. You follow two different time periods - the 40s and the 60s - but the same people. You flip back and forth. It is easy to follow since each chapter begins with a date. Well sort of, people change names and identities. So the book is about a small group of people and the choices they make, let's say to survive.
What makes this a good book is the writing. I don't know how to say it more clearly than that. I was given a puzzle to solve, and I kept trying to understand who was related to who and how did the events interconnect. Half-way through I did understand, yet I had to finish to confirm my guesses.
The book captures Estonian life. It makes the reader ask, "What would you do to survive?" One isn't so quick to judge if you understand what their life was like. However, I felt the author presented us with characters out on the edge. What plays out is an extreme scenario. For this reason it was not really the choices that these characters made that interested me but in understanding their world. Think, to have freedom and then to see it disappear. What was that like?
The narrator of the audiobook, Enn Reitel, was excellent. He has a strong voice. He doesn't sound English. That would be all wrong! He reads very slowly. Maybe you don't like that. I do. In an audiobook you cannot easily go back and recheck what you were told chapters earlier so you have to get it right when first told to you. I need slow narrations to do this.
کتاب خوبی بود و ترجمهی خوبی هم داشت، بهخصوص آشنایی با صدایی از یک کشور نسبتاً ناشناخته برای ما (استونی) لذتبخش بود، ولی از نظر محتوا من "مفیستو"ی کلاوس مان رو ترجیح میدم که از جهت شخصیت مرکزی اثر، به نظر من خیلی شباهت داره به این کتاب و پرداخت بهتری هم داره
Undeva prin liceu, citeam "Vacile lui Stalin" și mi se parea genială. Cativa ani mai tarziu, in primul an de facultate, citeam pe o banca in parc "Purificare" si mi se părea geniala. Ma tot intrebam: de ce nu stie mai multa lume de Sofi? In prezent am terminat de citit "Ziua cand au disparut porumbeii" si am inteles raspunsul la intrebare. Nu stiu daca intre timp mi s-a schimbat atat de mult gustul in literatura sau pur si simplu "Ziua cand au disparut porumbeii" este una dintre cartile mai slabe ale autoarei. O actiune încâlcită, care sare dintr-un plan narativ in altul. Povestea nu are o linie clara, nu are un deznodământ clar, ceea ce in cazul asta nu este un bonus. In schimb ce mi se pare ca a reusit sa transmita bine este ceața acelor vremuri, degradarea la care se coborau unii oameni pentru a ajunge pe placul KGB ului.
This is definitely not escapist literature. It's bleak and cold and there's no justice. Honourable people finish last and collaborators and turncoats bask in the sunlight of Party recognition and are able to pack off enemies or unwanted wives to lunatic asylums, force people into hiding or ensure an arrest by a mere few words exchanged with the right person. Paranoia is a survival mechanism. To be casual in your acquaintances is to be reckless. Family means little. Everyone will misunderstand everything. The greatest crimes are always left undisclosed and buried. Not even loved ones dare speak the truth.
The chapters alternate between the Nazi occupation of the 1940s and the Soviet one of the 1960s. Gradually Edgar, the filthy collaborator, who follows the direction of the wind and will sell out anyone for the sake of a nice house and the chance to cowtow with higher officialdom, whether communist or national socialist, seems to take over the narrative. He's a truly despicable individual, and the reveal at the very end, though not an absolute surprise to me, had me gritting my teeth in fury. Juudit, his wife, is also something of an opportunist at the outset, but she seems to be so more out of pragmatism than outright greed, and you can tell that all she really wants is security, but she's also compelled by Roland to do what is clearly the "right" thing, as dangerous as that might be. She's no hero though and is always questioning herself, always on the edge of running away, always at the point of succumbing completely to her fears. In the end, it drives her mad. Roland, the honourable man who wants to avenge the death of his fiancé and somehow work toward the independence of his beleaguered nation, is kept at a distance throughout, a cold, implacable, aloof figure who is, despite his positive traits, difficult to identify with.
And to think this terrible strife probably lasted right on through to 1991. There's just no escape for any of these people. While the writing conveys a certain calm (at least in the translated version), it's deceptive; this is really a cry of hopeless desperation and frustrated dreams. It will leave you bitter and just a little bit more misanthropic.
Thank you to Knopf Doubleday for providing me with an egalley copy of the book for review.
I was in Tallinn, Estonia a couple months ago for the first time and fell in love with the country. It’s so rich in culture and history, yet it’s sad to see that much of the world doesn’t pay too much attention to such an intriguing nature. The trip sparked an interest in further learning about their language, culture, and history, so when I saw Sofi Oksanen’s “When the Doves Disappear” I had to request it. My own Slavic background and familiarity with the communist regime served as another factor. Why not read a book about the country while also familiarizing myself with Scandinavian literature?
“When the Doves Disappear” is a book with great promise of intrigue, some scandal, and definitely something dark. We’re introduced to cousins Roland and Edgar and already notice they don’t see eye to eye. Throw in Rosalie and Juudit, the partners of these two cousins, respectively, and it sounds like a recipe for the perfect war-time fiction novel. Sadly I didn’t come to that verdict.
What Oksanen manages to do very well, to the point where it becomes TOO well, is describe the atmosphere and everything that is going on in the character’s mind. You have lengthy sections in the novel of Juudit or Parts wondering about whether what they’re doing is right or not, or learning something about the character through third person narrative. It is only when the story switches to Roland that the narrative becomes first person, so it was easy to keep up with. The content however was what lost me, and what made a skill of description become borderline painful.
The characters that are introduced in the beginning of the book are never fully developed. They come in and out as the narrative switches, in a very choppy fashion, from one to the other. After a certain point I realized the focus is primarily on the idea of interconnection – between Roland and Judit, Parts and Judit, and every other character that appears. However the lack of fleshing out makes the characters fall flat and never go beyond being just a name on the page. Others, like the relatives of Roland and Edgar, I could never remember. Who was the mother-in-law? Who’s the aunt? Or is that not the aunt? By the end of the book I kept forgetting who exactly Parts was, who he was married to, and just what he was doing. Evelin and Rein, who are introduced in the last fifty or so pages of the book, have barely any relevance to the story line until the (rather unsurprising) revelation of just who Evelin is, although this too is done so subtly that it’s easy to overlook. Overall I would say it’s Juudit who’s the only one that the book manages to create some sort of empathy for, though very minimal.
With such a confusing cast of characters it wasn’t too surprising then that the plot felt equally as flat. If one doesn’t know who’s doing the action and why it’s being done then the significance of it is diminished. I must admit I expected something a bit more, something more dramatic and energetic from this book. The events take place with Estonia under Soviet and Nazi occupation, after all. Perhaps it’s my lack of knowledge about the occupied Estonia that makes me believe it’s ‘bigger’ than it really was, and I’ll acknowledge that readily. But even then, everything could’ve been much tighter and clearer. The two story lines blend so much that they’re difficult to distinguish and the characters are a puzzle of their own that takes time to figure out.
It was overall a very slow and somewhat tedious read, far from what I expected. I’d recommend it then to someone who has more patience with figuring out characters and story lines, but also perhaps to one who has some sort of basic knowledge about Estonia during the two time frames that are discussed in the book. For me it was too slow considering how obvious several details were, and the plot was too jumbled and characters too unmemorable to make the reading enjoyable.
When The Doves Disappeared continues the themes from (the rather magnificent) Purge; wartime and post-war Estonia, a small country caught between Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. And like Purge, it does so in two parallel timelines, with the story set first in the early 40s as nationalist Estonians welcome the German forces who "liberate" the newly incorporated Estonian SSR, and picking up again in the early 60s as an entire generation has grown up under Soviet rule.
And yet the focus character remains the same: Edgar Parts (or Eggart Fürst, as he prefers to go by for a few years), master of that most hallowed of human traits, the ability to adapt to his environment. From failed nationalist soldier to Nazi collaborator to KGB propagandist, he's perfected the art of fitting in, of telling his superiors what they want to hear and changing his face to fit the current political situation - in other words, he lies, he spins stories, and now he sits there in his grey Soviet apartment writing the definitive history of Nazi collaborators during the Hitler years. He should know, after all, he was one of the leading... uh, anti-Nazi collaborators. Yup, that's the ticket. (In the foreword, Oksanen says she was inspired by the story of a man who made everyone around him believe he was famous pioneer pilot without ever having set foot in a plane, and wondered what that life must have been like for his wife.)
So then there's his wife who hated her sexless marriage and fell in love with a German soldier, and his cousin who still believes in neither Nazi nor Soviet supremacy, and all the other people he's run into, and whose stories he gets to tell on their behalf, except when they get to take over for a chapter or two and tell their own side of the story... which doesn't matter, since in the end they're not the ones writing an Official Soviet History, and their superior officers never praised them for their initiative, so there.
When The Doves Disappeared is a very confident novel, with vivid characters; the parallel timelines and conflicting narrative voices complement each other beautifully, and the themes of self-deception and survival mechanisms mean that Oksanen has to be subtle in putting across what the characters don't allow themselves to think or feel; like the Estonian flag they quickly run up the pole in the short days between the Nazis evacuating and the Red Army coming back, things show through the cracks. Occupation (in whatever meaning you want to take the word) permeates everything, and not everyone manages to cope - in fact, the novel seems to say, the only way of fully coping is to give up and play along. It's an indictment of tyranny - political, sexual, social - told through someone whose entire life is spent justifying it even as it affects himself.
The only thing that bugs me is that as much as I like unreliable narrators, Parts just doesn't grab me as a main character. His actions are fascinating, and the more we learn about him the more we understand who he is and why he is like that, but he himself remains... kind of an annoying coward, whose identity has been so thoroughly scrubbed that he barely exists. Which may be the point; we want our villains to be audacious, like he describes them in his book, we want a Hitler and a Stalin and a Bin Laden, not an army of faceless yes men who quietly adapt to anything and help put pressure on the ones who won't.
It's a very good novel, one I sped through in a couple of days, unable to get out of my head; just not quite as brilliant and as immediate as Purge was. But then, that's a very high standard to hold someone to.
El infortunio de Estonia se revela en esta novela. El país báltico pasó de la ocupación de la Unión Soviética en la década de los 30, a la invasión nazi durante la Segunda Guerra, para regresar después al martirio soviético. En todo ese entramado hubo personajes heroicos que buscaron siempre la independencia estonia, pero también personajes nefastos que se acomodaron según las circunstancias.
A good look at Estonia in it's WWII and postWWII era. While I don't agree with every characters' choice in this book, I can understand them. And again, as someone with very little understanding of this part of the world, and at this time, I appreciate the insight.
While not quite to the level of Purge, I found this a solid read.
Keeping ourselves informed about the state of the world behind the headlines, reading accounts of brutal situations, stupefied by facts, we may prefer fiction, where a sympathetic hero can lead us through the carnage to some kind of moral high ground where hope flutters and we can carry on uplifted. Not so when we are called to witness the erosion of character and the desperate measures people resorted to under the pressures of war. So while I am forced to give 5 stars to this harsh book, for the writing, for the fact that it was even written,for the masterful slow reveals and the relevance of it, I found the actual reading got more and more difficult emotionally. I am a pacifist and was alarming for me to identify in myself a feeling that grew in me of wanting to kill one of the main characters and give a few slaps to another.
I had not been aware of this horrible chapter in the 2nd world war, the fate of Estonia and the hardship imposed by crazy politics on the life of the people. SO does a masterful job of documenting the chaos of the time, with a thorough appendix that indicate years of research, and a vast perspective that allows her t0 capture much more than the facts in such a way that no blame is cast, only a light on the shadows.
Tēma ir svarīga, tās izvērsums - problemātisks, lai neteiktu vairāk. Un, manuprāt, gaužām aizdomīgi ir garum gari romāni, kuros autors/-e izrunājas riņķī un apkārt par visu ko, it kā nevarētu vien nopriecāties pats par savu balsi, it kā pilnīgi reibtu no savām plašajām zināšanām, līdz divās pēdējās lappusēs visbeidzot augstsirdīgi un ļoti sasteigti sniedz ģeniālu atrisinājumu. Tas atsauc atmiņā Stepnovas "Dārzu" un - ak vai! - arī ne pašus labākos t. s. sieviešu literatūras paraugus
When the Doves Disappeared is the second novel by Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen to be translated into English. Already a bestseller in Sweden and Finland, the novel was first published in 2012, and has recently been released by Atlantic Books. Publication in twenty-eight further countries worldwide will follow. Le Monde heralds When the Doves Disappeared ‘an explosive book with a dark heart’. The book’s blurb, which calls it ‘a story of surveillance, deception, passion, and betrayal’ also alludes to the way in which Oksanen ‘brings to life both the frailty, and the resilience, of humanity under the shadow of tyranny’.
This is ‘a chillingly suspenseful, deftly woven novel that opens up a little-known yet still controversial chapter of history: the occupation, resistance, and collaboration in Estonia during and after World War II’. Two stories, both of which highlight ‘two brutally repressive eras’ and which largely feature the same protagonists, unfold. The first takes place in 1941, when Roland and his ‘slippery cousin’ Edgar are fleeing the clutches of the Red Army, both having to make sacrifices to stay hidden; and the second in 1963, when Estonia’s Communist control has once again strengthened its hold. In this later story, Oksanen still follows Roland and Edgar, as well as Edgar’s wife, Juudit, who ‘may hold the key to uncovering the truth’.
The prologue gives immediate depth: ‘But I had to bring her [Juudit] to the safety of the forest when I heard that she’d had to flee from Tallinn… She’d been like an injured bird in the palm of my hand, weakened, her nerves feverish for weeks… The men were right… Women and children belonged at home… The noose around us was tightening and the safety of the forest was melting away’. At this time, we are told that ‘the acts of the Bolsheviks had already proved our country and our homes were under the control of barbarians’.
As well as using two differing timespans, Oksanen also blends two different narrative voices – the first person perspective of Roland, who is a soldier at the outset of the book, and the omniscient third person, which largely follows Juudit. The latter is fitting, but Oksanen’s use of the male narrative voice does not feel quite realistic; some of the turns of phrase which she makes use of do not quite sit correctly within the whole, and are not at all what one can imagine a man in Roland’s position to say. I for one cannot personally think of many men who would utter such sentences as, ‘She jumped like a nimble bird’, or ‘Her eyelids fluttered, a sound like birds’ wings on the surface of a lake’.
It seems as though Lola Rogers’ translation of the novel has been thoughtfully done on the whole, but there are a few issues within the text. From time to time, the idioms which have been used are somewhat lost in translation. The use of Americanisms also grated somewhat; words such as ‘frosting’, ‘cookie’ and ‘gotten’ feel too modern for the piece, and serve to jar one from the well-crafted period context. Whilst this is only a minor issue, it does divert attention from what should be a riveting story.
When the Doves Disappeared is well paced, and one of Oksanen’s strengths certainly lies in the way in which she builds tension. Some of her sentences in the more climactic moments are striking: ‘Spies’ eyes glittered everywhere, greedy for the gold of dead Estonians’ dust’. The scenes, too, are well built, and Oksanen’s backdrops, particularly with regard to the war-torn towns and battlefields, have been rather vividly evoked. Roland speaks of how ‘I’d made a record of every smoking ruin and unburied body I’d encountered, with either a house or a cross, even if I couldn’t find words for all those lifeless eyes, these corpses swarming with maggots’. The levels of historical context here lead one to the conclusion that the whole has been thoroughly researched, and details which she weaves in, such as Estonia’s Army uniforms and the lack of available food, further set the scene.
The World War Two story is more engaging than that which occurs in 1961, too; whilst there are items of historical interest within the latter, it does not quite make for the gripping tale which I was expecting. In terms of learning about the war and its aftermath within Estonia, When the Doves Disappeared is fascinating. In comparison to Purge, however, it feels both lacking and a touch disappointing.
[3.5] I'd been waiting for this book for years, ever since I read Purge, so it was always going to have a lot to live up to.
The first few chapters were flat, and I was baffled that Oksanen, a writer who seems passionate and angry about so much, was phoning it in. The narratives of two of the three focal characters - Edgar and Juudit, both narrated in third-person - soon improved though, and became outright gripping, as the book transmuted from potboiler to pageturner. But the other, Roland, never quite worked. The author or editor probably realised this, as his chapters became shorter and the gaps between them longer. Maybe Oksanen can't write first person as well as third; maybe she's just one of those authors whose opposite-sex first-person narrators are unconvincing. Quite early on, Roland, a staunch Estonian Second World War partisan involved in fighting both the Soviets and the Nazis, says Edgar and the other university boys hadn’t seen much of life....Huh, I'd been thinking from the tone that he was going to be that type himself. His narrative doesn't gain any more personality as it goes on, and he never sounds like the kind of man occasional statements like that, or his history, show him to be. (A GR friend's recent review of a completely different book may have helped prompt the thought that Roland's descriptions of sex sounded like typical literary scenes of lesbian sex - though not like the one in that review!)
When the Doves Disappeared (why? because everybody, not least the Germans, ate them in wartime) is a claustrophobic account of people trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. Which some could, still, perhaps take as a metaphor for the geographical location of the Baltic States. There is something about this book, perhaps because of the smallness of Estonia, and the sheer length of occupation it had already suffered - from the middle ages continually until 1918 - that, more than stories of larger countries that were fought over by Hitler and Stalin, it brings home the horror of powerlessness against two great monsters and the absence of breathing space and freedom whilst cornered. In a post earlier this year, I mentioned the similarity of the situations of some wartime civilian collaborators to people who get caught up in abusive relationships; although that idea isn't stated explicitly here, it's clear from the parallels Oksanen drew in Purge that she considers political oppression to have similar effects. Edgar's and Juudit's stories, perhaps because once they work, they immerse the reader into each person's world, both have a tinge of the trapped, the fatalistic, of 'what the bloody hell else were we supposed to do?' but with very different personalities.
Unlike Purge, this novel doesn't go so much into the characters' childhoods and backgrounds as an explanation of why they acted as they did. Although Edgar is perhaps a bit of a throwback: I seem to remember that years ago, there used to be complaint that gay male characters were often duplicitous villains, their necessary concealment of their illegal or only-recently-legal sexuality being treated as a metaphor and a reason for double-crossing, spying and generally twisted behaviour. Whether this type was inspired by the Cambridge Spies or was a representation problem that existed regardless, I'm not quite sure. Literary and media representations of gay men are much more varied now, and that's not an issue I've seen raised for a long time, but it just so happens that in the last three months, I'd read three older thriller or crime books in which this stereotype was used. That meant I could see by this fourth example why it would have been frustrating and denigrating - whereas to many modern readers Edgar will just be another character among a great variety they read about, without his seeming to cast aspersions on a group of people; he might even seem unusual contrasted with lots of recent, squeaky-clean 'just happens to be gay' popular fiction characters. Incidentally, I was surprised that Edgar only seemed to have been able to pull whilst he was imprisoned; there are no furtive glances leading to chance encounters elsewhere, no cruising, no underground clubs, nor any overt mention of him trying to suppress his sexuality for fear of being found out - he just fancies straight guys or enviously eyes probable gay couples. An underdeveloped part of the story.
Edgar (surnamed Parts – not the only use of a genuine local name as a play on words in English, see also 'Hellmuth Hertz') is the villain of the piece, though not always presented as such. If one takes a step back, his actions create a picture of a power-hungry, amoral sociopath. Yet watching his processes of self-transformation from freedom fighter to Nazi to Communist, the skin does not crawl in the way it does when reading so many other pernicious characters who inveigle themselves into power over others. It is only the occasional times when we hear the consequences of his actions that the blood chills. His moments alone feel as benign and identifiable, as much of a game, as trying to be the right sort of person for an interview, or working out how a character might move in acting; it seems whilst reading him that his is the most rational and skilful reaction to trying to survive in this shifting world where no one in power seems to care anyway; his irritations, such as the distracting movements of someone else at home whilst he tries to write, are understandable. I think it's an intriguing attempt to get the reader into the mind of a 'baddie' and show how normal it feels for that person to be as they are, and to demonstrate that it's a gradation : these are tendencies that many people have, but Edgar takes them further and uses them for more nefarious purposes than most. (Thousands of Nazis and Soviets were ordinary people. These days an Edgar might be scheming to get to the top of a large corporation.) I just wasn't always sure about the way he was drawn; it was certainly engrossing, with a sense of the writer and the reader being in his skin, but something didn't quite ring true to type … perhaps the way he felt some positive things as average people do (though not everything); his emotionlessness is too inconsistent.
Juudit's story felt similarly vivid at the time, yet more has faded in the days since I finished the book. Two sets of details have stuck: firstly of her conversations and genuine friendship with Gerda, the mistress of another Nazi officer and reliable dispenser of advice on how to be the right sort of woman for their environment. (Some novelists would have made Gerda bitchy – it was an unusual move to make her a good friend. In the way she simply didn't care about politics, only about getting on in life, she recalled the chapter about naive Czech actress Lída Baarová, Goebbels' former lover, in Gottland.) Associated mostly, though not only, with Juudit, were fascinating details of old beauty and first-aid treatments. Some are brands (would have been really interesting to see pictures of these, though it's not like the format allows). Some things seem to have been used all the time, e.g. sugar as a facial scrub; others perhaps more because of wartime shortages – sulphuric acid as an antiseptic for wounds? Now that would sting a bit.
Although Edgar and Juudit are nearly always in third person, the closeness with which they're written leaves the felt memory that it's they who were in first, not Roland. I found something intimate about this writing, the way it got under my skin and seemed to relate to very different experiences of my own; it made me think about what was transposed to create it. Although I do so by reflex, not effort, it seems infinitely more rude to psychoanalyse a living writer around one's own age than somebody who's dead and gone, but I wondered whether identifying with two nationalities and being bisexual, and living with many situations in which only part of oneself is 'on' is linked to the strengths in portraying characters whose worlds, identities and lives are also divided and partially hidden.
I get the impression from some reviews of this book & of Purge, in English or put through Google Translate, that plenty of people feel that Oksanen's portrayal of Estonia is more horrific than theirs or their parents'. Whilst accepting that must be the case for some people, (and the use of so many English-friendly character names didn't exactly add to the authenticity) I still found this book strangely powerful for taking a scenario of which I knew the basics, and producing such a strong sense of the pressure and stuck-ness of being caught between two sides in a tiny country when it would actually be decades before it was over.
This is a difficult book to get into, for two reasons: names and history. The author, Finnish-Estonian Sofi Oksanen, introduces her characters by a single identifier—first name, last name, or simply a relationship (brother, cousin, husband, etc.)—and takes a long time to connect these up. But the worst problem is that the history of Estonia in the Second World War is just so darned complicated. It would be hard to learn the facts from this book (although that of course is not its point), so let me try, with the aid of Wikipedia...
While Hitler was still allied with Stalin, Estonia was occupied by Soviet troops, who essentially milked it of its resources, forcing many of the young men into the Red Army, and deporting others. Some escaped to Finland to be trained to fight against the Soviets, and another group of partisans, the Forest Brothers, took to the woods to fight for independence. But when the main action of this novel begins in 1941, Hitler has attacked Russia, and Estonia is now occupied by the Wehrmacht, while Russian paramilitary "destruction battalions" destroy everything possible in their retreat. Although first hailed as liberators, the Germans bring their own exploitation, forced recruitment, and anti-Jewish policies. So, even after the War, when Estonia reverts to the Soviet bloc, the skein of past loyalties has become impossibly tangled. Some of Oksanen's characters change their names more than once to hide their history. Even the capital, Tallinn, changes its name to Reval. Readers from the Baltic may know much of this already, and recognize the names of the real figures mentioned in the novel, but English speakers are at a disadvantage.
This confusion is essential for Oksanen's purpose, however, for tangled loyalties are her main subject. It turns out that there are three main characters: two cousins, Roland and Edgar, and Edgar's wife Juudit. Roland is a patriot from first to last, and spends much of the book underground, working against each set of occupiers in turn. Edgar turns out to be a chameleon, reinventing himself to be of use to whichever force is in power. Juudit also changes allegiances more than once, but she is inspired by better motives. The novel switches to and fro between the forties and the sixties, by which time Edgar has become a minor Communist official, charged with writing a history of the Hitlerist Atrocities Against the Peaceloving Soviet People. His discoveries bring us to a shocking denouement—but I am not sure that I believe it, given his sycophantic unreliability as a narrator.
Indeed, Oksanen is so oblique that I am still not entirely certain how the story ends up or exactly what took place. But I do believe that the confusion that she paints is probably an accurate picture of the troubled history of her motherland.
ისეთივე გაფაციცებით ვკითხულობდი, როგორც ლარსონის ტრილოგიას, თუმცა ეს ნაწარმოები გაცილებით რთული და ჩახლართული იყო. ერთი სული მქონდა გამეგო როლანდისა და იუუდითის ამბავი. ედგარის ტრანსფორმაციებმა ხომ სულ გამასულელა. ასეთ თემაზე ასე საინტერესოდ დაწერილი წიგნი იშვიათია. ასევე მომეწონა რომანის სტრუქტურა, თუ როგორ ენაცვლება 40-იანი და 60-იანი წლების ამბები ერთმანეთს, რაც წიგნზე მიჯაჭვულს გხდის. ერთ-ერთი საინტერესო მეთოდია, როდესაც სპეციალურად საინტერესო ადგილას წყვეტს მწერალი თხრობას და რამდენიმე ხაზი მკითხველის გონებაში ერთდროულად ვითარდება. წიგნში პირდაპირ არაფერია ნათქვამი და მკითხველი ტექსტის კითხვისას თავად უნდა მივხდეს ვიზე და რაზეა საუბარი. ეს ფაქტი განსაკუთრებით მომეწონა. ფინალი არის განსაკუთრებით მაგარი! ერთ-ერთი საუკეთესო ფინალი რაც კი წამიკითხავს.
რაც შეეხება თარგმანს. წიგნში საკმაო ბეჭდვითი ხარვეზებია და არც თარგმანია ბრწყინვალე, მაგრამ ვერც იმას ვიტყვი, რომ ამას ხელი შეეშალოს კითხვისთვის. თუ ძალიან პრეტენზიული არ ხართ, ამას სათვალავში არც ჩააგდებთ. ისეთი საინტერესო ამბავია, ამას ყურადღება წესით არც უნდა მიაქციოთ.
"Brzy se už nenajdou očití svědci a o tehdejších zvěrstvech se bude psát jen v knihách"
Zpočátku jsem se vůbec neorientovala v postavách, postupem času se jejich počet ale začíná zmenšovat a děj zpřehledňovat. A zároveň vás taky uvrhne do větší a větší depky.
Estonsko je jednou z těch nešťastných zemí, jejíž dějiny tvoří hlavně střídání nadvlád mocnějších sousedů. Ani vás nemůže překvapit, že jsou Němci (v knize, realitu jsem si neověřovala) v Estonsku na začátku oslavováni. Samozřejmě ne na dlouho, a zas se nám na pár desetiletí vrátí velký bratr. Naštěstí existují jistoty napříč režimy... Třeba to, že jsou lidi svině nehledě na to, kdo jim zrovna vládne.
I thought this was a very good historical novel, shedding light on the history of Estonia's occupation by Soviet and German forces, switching between two periods of time - the 1940s and 1960s. There is a strong theme of betrayal, both on a family level and a national level.
For me, though, it didn't have anywhere near the emotional impact of her earlier work, Purge. I have been trying to put my finger on why this was and I think that the depiction of two of the three main characters in this book just did not feel fleshed out enough. The character of Roland was the only one written in the first person and yet, oddly, his was the character I felt I knew and understood least. Juudit was the only one that seemed real, with motives that were understandable, if not always forgivable.
Nevertheless, this is well worth a read and I look forward to reading more of her works translated into English.