Review: Kun kyyhkyset katosivat (when the pigeons disappeared) – Sofi Oksanen

Sometimes the oppressors win.
Kun kyyhkyset katosivat (When the pigeons disappeared) continues the series of bleak tales about Soviet Estonia. Once again within the story events of two timelines intertwine. Anyone who has read a book written by Oksanen can deduce this from the stamps in the chapter titles.
Estonia was overrun by Soviet Union, Germany, and Soviet Union again in the Second World War. Ordinary people battled with hunger and against their occupiers. Or they let themselves be swept away by the authority and influence. Some became informants against their will, others aimed to please the powerful at any price—even at the expense of their own identities. For others giving up a name was the only way to protect their loved ones.
War makes criminals of us all. War makes us survivors.
I don’t think I found any deeper meaning than that in this book, and even that was almost overrun by the annoying style points. Her prose is as beautiful as ever, but the structure of the novel could have used a bit more work. It felt like Oksanen was trying to create mystery where there was none. Clarity would have been more rewarding. The plot twists in the end—three by my count—were all predictable despite the messy beginning. 
Reading English literature has made me oversensitive for mixing first and third person voices. I don’t mind quick—lasting a sentence or two—plunges into the the psyche of the character, but chapter long switches stink of laziness. If the author wants to expand her narration into several viewpoints, why wouldn’t she also tell it all in third person voice? Why would she place one character above all others but not important enough to tell the whole story from their perspective? Although, I didn’t like True by Riikka Pulkkinen, at least in that the narrative device had its purpose.
It’s quality literature, but my expectations for Oksanen were higher.

13 thoughts on “Review: Kun kyyhkyset katosivat (when the pigeons disappeared) – Sofi Oksanen

  1. rameau says:

    If she likes her books, then it's a good gift. If she's never heard of her, you might want to try to find either Stalin's cows or Purge first. I haven't seen the film, but I guess I will, eventually.

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