Purge

“She found it hard to believe that there would be any bold moves, because too many people had dirty flour in their bags, and people with filthy fingers are hardly enthusiastic about digging up the past.”

Sofi Oksanen, Purge.

 

Sofi Oksanen is an author from Finland. She was brought up with a Finnish father and a mother from Estonia. Purge (Puhdistas in Finish) was her first novel to be published in English, although she had won numerous prestigious literary awards in Finland.

Set in a small country called Estonia, which has many cultural links to Finland. Their capitals, Helsinki and Tallinn are just a stones throw away from each other across the Baltic sea – on a map it looks like they are reaching out to each other or Estonia is reaching out for the protection of its elder brother.

Estonia has also been a country steeped in Soviet history, bordered and invaded twice by Russia. The story juggles between two timelines in Estonian history; one in the 1950’s during the Soviet occupation and the other in early 1990’s when Estonia is free.

Purge represents the rich cultural history Estonia has with its neighbouring countries and has an oppressive feel of communism after world war II, of flies and sexual abuse. It tells the story of two brilliant and haunting characters, Zara and Aliide.

The two main protagonist’s stories weave a web of their troubled pasts in the country of abuse by men who hate women and how their lives are intertwined. If they want to survive they must learn to trust each other – something that each of the women have learnt not to do in life! As the story progresses you are willing for them to open up and trust each other to help Zara survive and escape or be purged from their sins!

This is a wonderful, dark story of redemption. I loved researching the places mentioned in the book; Estonia and Vladivostok in Russia. The protagonists are beautiful and tender in their strength and flaws. But this book is also about the rich writing, the depth of detail of the mundane is almost heart stopping as the tension builds and the story develops!

 

 

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Utopia for Realists

“The inability to imagine a world in which things are different is evidence only of a poor imagination, not of the impossibility of change. In the 1950s we couldn’t conceive that the advent of refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and, above all, washing machines would help prompt women to enter the workplace in record numbers, and yet they did.”

Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There.

 

Not just white goods that have revolutionised our lives but also big things like the universal right to vote. Big ideas like these were all once considered a utopian ideal, a nice idea but impossible to achieve. But Rutger Bregman asks the question are utopian ideas so difficult to achieve?

This incredible textbook is like Dr Who’s Tardis – the book has so much more inside than you would expect! Rutger looks at the concept of utopia and how important it is in politics, to keep striving for something better in society and how we can get there! It was very interesting to re-think the normal ideas we are brought up with about what work is and why we have work in a society. The importance and relevance of non-traditional or unpaid work. How we have grown up with the acceptance and depressing plight of the homeless.

I was recommended this book at the same time as I was swept along with the emotional vigour of the recent anti-Trump protests in London on his controversial visit to the UK. This experience really made me think about why so many individuals from so many different backgrounds had come together to say things are not ok with the world, that something needs to change! And the best thing is that people are really listening.

Trump Rally

Rutger Bregman’s book delves into history and how we have come to the state of politics we are in now and what we can do to make very real and practical changes in the world. In the past the idea of everyone having the right to a vote was a utopian idea now the idea of a minimum wage is a utopian ideal. This book makes you believe that in the near future we could see this idea as the norm. Rutger shows us that we have come to a point in western countries that we could finally make these changes happen.

This is a very uplifting book giving detailed political ideas of the utopian ideal of a basic income for all. It is a very well thought out and researched book and you are left feeling more positive that there really is a solution to the horrific problems of homelessness and poverty.

Malala; ‘the pride of Pakistan’

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

Malala Yousafzai at her speech given as the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

Malala; the ‘pride of Pakistan’ returns to her homeland for the first time in four years, since she was shot in the head by the Taliban as a little girl for having the audacity to stand up for her right to go to school.

“We realise the importance of our voices, only when we are silenced.”

Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala

Malala was always going to be different from her peers in Pakistan. Her father, Ziauddin owned his own school and believed girls should be educated like boys. When Malala, his first child was born her father was overjoyed. He was confused why people did not throw coins and sweets into her crib, the cultural norm for baby boys or why neighbours came over to commiserate the birth of a daughter with his wife. It was different when his sons were born, and for a man who loved his children equally, he did not understand.

Ziauddin fostered the political will and intelligence in Malala to stand up and fight for her right to an education. She followed her father to political talks, as a young child sitting on his knee and then as she grew older she started to give her own speeches on the importance to society that boys and girls are given the opportunity to a good education.

The Taliban shot Malala in the head on the school bus after school. Two of her friends were also shot and are also living in England. Malala was flown to a hospital in Birmingham due to complications from her head injury. She has lived in Birmingham for the past four years with her family.

Malala’s biography, ‘I Am Malala’ is a very interesting and personal account of her fight to attend school during the era of the Taliban in Pakistan. It is written with the help of one of the world’s leading foreign correspondents, Christina Lamb who helped put a lot of the personal dialogue within a historical context.

In her biography, Malala states that she loves England because it is so calm and quiet. She found it so surprising that here people respect and do not fear the police and no one knows the army general’s name. She finds the solitude and lack of a community spirit in England compared to her home town of Mingora in Pakistan hard. Her loving mother, who is illiterate and can not speak English has especially found it difficult.

Malala loves her home in the Swat valley and wishes to return to Pakistan to continue her fight as a politician for women’s rights and education. At the moment she is studying in Oxford University. Let’s hope Pakistan embraces her as a symbol of resilience and pride and not a symbol of shame or a Western stooge, as some people have called her according to her biography and keep her safe on her first trip home.

Guardian: Malala Returns Home

Oroonoko

Oroonoko or the Royal Slave was the first novel to be published in the U.K by a woman. Aphra Behn was one of only three known female playwrights at the time it was written in the 16th Century. Little is known of her life, but it is believed she travelled to Suriname in South America, with her family as a young woman, where the novel is set.

Oroonoko is an African prince who is betrayed by his grandfather and sold into slavery, ironically a trade he commenced in himself before his capture. The book is considered a pre-cursor to the fiction novel as it was written as a biography with no dialogue. Behn probably did take many of the incidences in the novel from her own experiences, but like all novels she probably developed and embellished those experiences to make the story more dramatic. A technique I am sure all fiction writers do.

This is a small book, more a novella really. In its time it would have been considered quite revolutionary in its depiction of the negative implications to the slave trade. At the same time Behn does not strictly condemn slavery as an institution, so engraved is the idea of the importance of slavery to the economy in those days. The prince Oroonoko and his love, Imoinda are described as beautiful with immense integrity. Their beauty however is always in comparison to white people, but the racism of the story must be understood within the time it was written.

The ending of Oroonoko in Suriname is so shocking that I doubt it would ever be written today (spoiler alert). Oroonoko realises that they will never be set free and his unborn child will be born into slavery. He therefore makes the decision to kill his heavily pregnant wife, who agrees to her own murder, believing her death by her husband’s hands to be a cultural sign of his devotion. His attempts at revenge and eventual suicide fails as he weakens from eight days by his wife’s corpse. Instead, Oroonoko is strung up and his nose chopped off, then both of his ears and arm is sliced off too, while he quietly smokes a pipe. A form of passive resistance and pride. Until his smoking arm is cut off and he promptly dies!

The Diary of Anne Frank

“People can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but that doesn’t stop you from having your own opinion.”

This book, like many books, has been on my ‘to read’ list for a long time. I am pretty sure I read this book when I was younger, but I cannot remember. As a teenager growing up in Germany, I do remember how sick I was of learning about the second world war. I loved history, but I wanted to read about the history of the whole world, of the conquistador’s, the blood-letting religion of the Inca’s or the stories of the Pharaoh’s.

My father, who was a military man, deemed it necessary that family holidays were situated at places important to war memorials. I am the only person I know who visited Hitler’s bunker and Eagle’s nest while on holiday as a young girl. I still remember the gold elevator at the Eagle’s nest and the bunkers where he was said to kill himself with Eva Braun. Because of my father’s position in the army I am also one of the few people to have been fortunate enough as a child to have been allowed to visit East Berlin before the wall came down.

I was about fourteen when we visited Auschwitz. I was too young to really understand the atrocities that went on there, but now I am older I feel privileged that a lot of my holidays as a child were so steeped in history. Reading Anne Frank’s diary now, as an adult, held so much of my attention and admiration. Not that the diary entries were amazing, but they were so raw and real for this little girl and it is an amazing privilege to be able to read Anne’s thoughts of her time during the war.

Before I finished this book I did some research on what happened to Anne and her family. After reading so many passionate entries about her dreams of becoming a writer it was heartbreaking that she and her sister, Margot died in a concentration camp just weeks before the camp was released and just months before the end of the war. I wanted her to hang on, to live and be all of the things you know she could have been. Reading such a personal account of someone’s life during the war, especially someone so young, it makes me aware just how much the world has missed out on from all those pointless deaths. Who knows what many of those people could have become if they had survived? Thinking about this when the diary abruptly ends on the 1st of August, knowing that after this last diary entry Anne and her family are found and taken away, made me so sad.

If she had lived, Anne’s jumbled up writing would have developed and matured. But at least Anne did become a published writer, and her diary helped to document the people’s lives during the war and has therefore become a relevant historical document in its own right, and it has also caught the imagination of generations of readers. Anne would have been happy about this.

The Gathering

the hathering

 

“People do not change, they are merely revealed.”
Anne Enright, The Gathering

The Gathering is the fourth novel by Irish writer Anne Enright, and the first book I have read of hers. It has been my intention to read more Irish literature and you couldn’t get more stereotypically Irish than this book. Veronica and Liam – two siblings from a Catholic family of 12 children. As Veronica travels from Dublin to Brighton to claim her brothers body she recalls bits and pieces of her childhood with her favourite brother.

It was difficult to churn through Anne Enright’s clunky narrative or even warm to the protagonist Veronica, but I did enjoy reading the parts on Veronica’s thoughts on her marriage. I wonder how important our role is as a mother, just how much are we actually needed and how much of what we do is down to pure laziness from our children. When Veronica’s brother, Liam dies she knows that everything will go on with out her. A family death giving her an automatic ‘hall pass’ from her life, and for a short while she can flee from the suffocating responsibilities of a wife and mother and take some time to gather her thoughts.

“There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought you were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all. And his important meeting was not important, not in the slightest. And the girls will be picked up from school, and dropped off again in the morning. Your eldest daughter can remember her inhaler, and your youngest will take her gym kit with her, and it is just as you suspected – most of the stuff that you do is just stupid, really stupid, most of the stuff you do is just nagging and whining and picking up for people who are too lazy to love you.”
Anne Enright, The Gathering

The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize and yet I couldn’t wait for the book to end. I am not a reader who normally shy’s away from gritty stoicism in my book choice, so why did I struggle through this book? It may be because the depressing themes pervading the book seemed to have no point and no summarisation at all. The problem is nothing really happens. In the end there is no story. The Gathering is a well written book, but it is a book written for writers rather than readers. Sometimes I think writers forget why they are writing a book, they write to be read after all and a reader wants a good story; to be entertained, thrilled and maybe even appalled a little, but they want a good story and The Gathering just doesn’t deliver.

That is why a book like The Gathering can have such disparate reviews, on one end of the scale are readers who simply enjoy a good story, the way it is written can easily be forgotten if it is a memorable and enjoyable read and on the other end are the high brow readers who pick a book apart for its structure and prose and the idea of an enjoyable plot line becomes lost and largely unimportant in their pursuit for that elusive of all things, ‘the perfect sentence’.