mardi 24 août 2010
Sofi Oksanen and the Stalin Award
The immense success of Sofi Oksanen's novel "Purge" (Puhdistus) astonishes me. But recalling books I read in my childhood I think I understand it to some degree. In the early fifties of the XX century I had not many books to read in Estonian, and after having read nearly all children's books published in the independent Estonia that were accessible to me I began to read Soviet literature, mostly books for grown-ups. Among those translated were a couple of dozen books by laureates of the Stalin award. I remember some of them that were really well written as Peter the First by Aleksei Tolstoy or In the Trenches of Stalingrad by Viktor Nekrasov. Most of everything else has become something anonymous, a fuzzy whole of half-mythological stories with sadistic Germans and their collaborators as anti-heroes and brave patriotic Partisans as heroes. But nevertheless, these books had a certain appeal, the fitted into some of our deep psychological needs, to our needs for fairy tales, for tales of heroes and villains. Oksanen's book falls into the same category as the Stalinist books of my childhood, only the heroes and anti-heroes have exchanged their role. It's a skillfully written horror story with many corpses. Let it be. My only, but very serious objection to the book is that it pretends to be a realistic story about life in Soviet Estonia in the second half of the XXth century, and seems to have been accepted as such by the public in Europe and America. S. O. who has no direct experience of the time and events she describes has taken parts of our life, sewing them together according to some age-old rules of ideological-mythological literature, and is now selling it in the West. She is selling something that pretends to be our life, but isn't. Our life in the Soviet Union was not a horror story! Of course, there were many horrific episodes, years of terror and counter-terror, but as a whole, we lived a life that was often quite interesting and funny. I cannot approve the idea that my life, the life of my parents, my friends, my colleagues was not a life worth living, that we felt we were prisoners in a large prison camp. The USSR after the death of Stalin was not a prison camp. It was a lousy country, but there were and there are many much more lousy countries in the world. One of my basic convictions is that there is no Devil (probably no God either, but here it's not important). Soviet Union was not a diabolical country. And the lives we lived in the second half of the XXth century in this country were not lived according to some diabolical rules and supervised by the Devil or his henchmen. I don't want anybody to take my life away from me and sell an adulterated version of it to unknowing people abroad. Dixi.