Six reasons why you should read When The Doves Disappeared
Putting Finnish fiction on the map
Having the opportunity to read a nation’s favourite author teaches us so much about their heritage and culture. Sofi Oksanen is the bestselling Finnish author alive – outsold only by Tove Jansson, creator of the unforgettable Moomins. She has won more awards than any other contemporary Finnish writer, having won the European book prize, the French Prix Femi and the renowned Swedish Academy Nordic prize as well. On its release in Finland, and Sweden too, her latest novel, When The Doves Disappeared, was an immediate number one bestseller. It’s time to put Finnish fiction – and in particular Oksanen’s writing - on our literary map.
Historical fiction that will burn the house down
Oksanen’s writing sizzles.As you read you will revel in beautiful turns of phrase, be pulled deep inside the devastating story - desperate to know what happens next - have your heart broken and your eyes opened, all the while breathlessly chasing the next revelation. When The Doves Disappeared has already drawn comparisons with the writing of Le Carre, and undoubtedly its complex and gripping plot would not be out of place in any spy novel. It just so happens that this novel is based entirely on historical fact.
A shattering family drama
One of the things we learn from When The Doves Disappeared is that, when a nation is occupied by one extreme political group then another in quick succession, alliances switch, survival instincts kick-in and families betray one another. The novel centres on three characters: Roland, a passionate freedom fighter, his much-hated cousin Edgar - who is a dutiful Nazi sympathiser first, then a staunch supporter of Soviet rule later - and Edgar’s struggling wife Juudit, who falls in love with an SS officer. Loyalties are divided, relationships are intense, duplicitous and fraught with doubt, and, like in all good espionage fiction, it’s left unclear who is trustworthy - family or not.
Who killed Rosalie?
This is not simply ‘Nordic noir’. It is an intricate deconstruction of history, a family drama, and many other things besides, however… at the heart of the plot is a good old murder mystery. The story begins at Rosalie’s graveside, where Roland, Rosalie’s finance, and Juudit, Rosalie’s sister, just cannot accept Rosalie’s death as a suicide. The novel skips back and forth between 1941 and 1963 and covers a multitude of sub-plots and other storylines, until finally revealing the truth about Rosalie on the very last page.
A very human story
This is history up close and personal – the novel is full of small, human details and is written from all three of the main characters’ points of view. You read of Juudit’s school-girl-like attraction to Hellmuth, the SS officer, and then of her candid chats with her friend Gerturd about contraception; you read of Roland’s various fake identities to hide his counter-revolutionary activities, his bitter hatred of his cousin and his constant fear of getting caught; and of Edgar’s petty dissatisfaction with, for example, the location of a meet-up and his preoccupation with whether he is being slighted by his superiors, all the while being ‘sweetened’ with cognac and fine clothes . You watch the characters fight, collude, nearly break down, spy on one another and change sides – but in the end, all they are trying to do is survive.
Think you know twentieth century history? Think again.
If you think you have seen/heard/read all there is to know about WW2 and the aftermath, you are very wrong. In Britain, few of us know what happened in smaller European countries during the latter half of the Twentieth century. This novel is all about hidden stories, buried secrets and forgotten facts. It is set in Estonia, which was invaded three times: first by the Soviets in 1940, then the Nazis in 1941, then the Soviets again in 1945. The novel flicks between Nazi and Soviet rule, illuminating two terrifying and destructive regimes, and depicts a nation fighting to retain its own identity and its humanity; this is, for many of us, a whole new – and vital - chapter in European history.