Once again Sofi Oksanen excels in making the recent tragic history of Estonia and its people into an engaging and riveting read.
In her previous, much acclaimed novel, Purge, the story follows three generations of women, while in When the Doves Disappeared, we trace the fates of two male cousins, each of whom deals very differently with their lives marred by war, the Red Army’s invasion, the brief but devastating period of German rule, and eventually the Soviet era.
Roland is a passionate freedom fighter, desperate for an independent Estonia. His younger cousin, Edgar, however, is more pragmatic and easily aligns himself with whoever is in power, without much thought to principles. Edgar’s wife Juudit too, is a survivor, but she has more difficulty in escaping her Estonian conscience, or Roland, who is often at hand to remind her.
The story is told from the point of view of the three main characters, Roland, Edgar and Juudit, and is set during two particularly violent periods in Estonian history; 1941 under Communist and Nazi rule, and 1963 when the Soviet Union increased its stranglehold of the small Baltic nation.
But this novel isn't merely a story of tragedy brought on by war and oppression, but also a tale of love, sexual identity and the secrets that haunt Roland, Juudit and Edgar.
The heart-warming description of Edgar’s attempts to please his various masters is squirm-making; while the infatuation and passion Juudit feels in the height of her doomed love-affair is heart-breaking; and the seemingly mysterious and futile loss Roland suffers makes you wish you were reading a comic novel. However, the twists and turns of this brilliant book make you read on – and when you've finished, you wish you could read When the Doves Disappeared again.
This review will also appear in the next issue of Horisontti, the Finn-Guild magazine.