Sunday, May 24, 2015

Purge, by Sofi Oksanen. Black Cat, translated edition 2010

One night in 1992, Aliide Truu finds what at first glance seems to be a pile of rags in her front yard in Estonia. A closer look reveals that it’s a young woman, bruised and battered. Against all instincts, she goes out and brings the girl in. Zara tells the first of her stories to Aliide; that she’s had a fight with her rich husband. In reality, Zara is running from her pimp, who lied to her in her Vladivostok home, telling her she could go to Germany for job training. He brought her to Germany and made her into a sex slave, controlling her with emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. The shame she feels over this makes her lie to Aliide, sure that she is so disgusting no one would ever help her if they knew. And she wants- needs- Aliide to take her in. They have a connection that Aliide doesn’t know about.

Aliide has secrets of her own. Flashbacks show her living in Estonia as it’s invaded and controlled first by the Fascists and then by the Stalinists. She is ashamed that she was brutally raped as part of an interrogation. She also married a Communist, making the townspeople she grew up with call her a collaborator and shun her. Then there is the matter of what ultimately happened to her brother-in-law, a man she wanted to take from her sister- the sister she had deported via her husband’s contacts. Both women are deeply ashamed to what has been done *to* them.

The ending surprised me. I suppose it shouldn’t have, as Aliide had already shown herself to be a survivor. I thought it was be best ending possible, despite being violent.  

It’s a hard book to read. Not because of the writing; the writing flows quickly and fluidly. It’s because the things that happen to the characters are so awful. Oksanen describes the rapes and abuse quite graphically, yet so matter-of-factly that it’s almost surreal; just, well, that happened; let’s keep going. And I think this is because that’s how the people in their situations- and there were and are many- have to deal with it. Just keep going. No time for a screaming fit. These are horrors unimaginable to most of us in the USA, and so many people- whole countries- have endured them. In my opinion, this is a book that should be required reading at some level. There is too much sex and violence for schools in the USA to accept, but it should at least be required in college. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way influenced my review. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. Del Ray, 2015

In a world that sounds remarkably like Eastern Europe a number of centuries ago, seventeen year old Agnieszka knows she’ll be losing her best friend, Kasia, soon. Kasia is smart, beautiful, and moves with grace. Agnieszka is clumsy, always manages to get dirty, breaks things, can’t cook or sew worth a darn, and manages to muck everything up- although she does have a knack for negotiating the forest without harm and always comes back with something, be it mushrooms, fruit, firewood, or herbs. This is the year of the Choosing, when the local wizard known as the Dragon chooses a seventeen year old girl to take to his tower. She will not be seen again for ten years. The girls, who claim he never molests them (and they are never believed), never stay in the valley after they return and do not speak of what happened to them. It’s important to keep the Dragon happy, because his magic is all that stands between the area and the Wood. Something evil and greedy lives in the forest- IS the forest- and it always seeks to expand its territory.

To her surprise, Agnieszka is picked. She goes to live in the tower- and is surprised to discover that the Dragon is trying to teach her magic. She has a unique natural talent, linked to the earth, and how it is expressed creates problems between her and the Dragon. She has reason to need this new power soon, as warring kingdoms and the Wood create havoc.

I loved this book. I really liked Agnieszka- I can very much identify with a heroine who constantly gets dirty and rips her clothing! The way her magic worked had a very authentic ring to it. The snippy, sarcastic Dragon is kind of an ass at first, but he grew on me a lot. The Wood is a unique menace and very well done; I found it quite creepy. The style is rather like that of a fairy tale- one of the darker ones. There are battles, possessions, assassinations, perilous escapes, horrors, and good things. The ending, when the Wood is revealed and dealt with, surprised me. I could not put this book down- it’s over 400 pages and I read it in two days. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide. New Directions. Written 2001; translated 2008

A couple in their 30s live in a small house on the property of a larger, older house. Childless, they spend their days working from home, writing and editing, and not interacting all that much. Then one day the neighbor’s cat comes into their house like it belongs there. The next day it returns. And again after that. While she won’t let them pick her up and she won’t get in a lap, she does accept offerings of cat food and fried mackerel. She becomes what I call a time share cat. And she changes their lives. Not in any sudden, large, ways, but slowly they begin to interact and to see the beauty in the garden their house sits in. She is ephemeral in their lives but lasting in her effect on them.

It’s a precious little story (the book is quite short). The book itself seems precious; the size of an old style pocket book, albeit thinner, with a wonderful ink drawing of a cat peering over a table’s edge. It’s like a little jewel, and yet contains so much in a subtle way: aging, death, relationships, spirituality, and being in the moment. Sit in a quiet place and read this book. 

The above is an affiliate link; if you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This did not influence my review.