Sofi Oksanen (given name Sofi-Elina Oksanen, b. 7. I 1977) is a writer of Estonian origin, in whose works, originally written in Finnish, she has dealt extensively with the tragic events of Estonia’s recent history.
She was born in Jyväskylä. Her mother is Estonian and her father is Finnish. She studied literature at the University of Helsinki and drama at the Helsinki Theatre Academy.
Sofi Oksanen has created from ordinary everyday material works with exciting, gripping plots and memorable imagery. She has won recognition for her works on Estonian themes. The events she writes about (the Second World War, the deportations, the great changes in society after the war, political affairs in peace-time and violence) are often tragic, and affect the daily lives of many people over several generations.
Oksanen is very well known internationally; her works have been translated into more than forty languages, and as of 2020 more than two million copies have been sold. At the same time, Oksanen’s work has aroused conflicting reactions among Estonian critics: on one side it is acknowledged that the painful themes in Estonian history have found a wider public; on the other, she is accused of a simplified treatment of historical material.
Some critics are of the opinion that Oksanen paints in her novels (such as Puhastus, published in English in 2010 as Purge) an excessively tragic and violent picture of the Soviet Union. At the same time, Oksanen leaves the reader the opportunity to read and interpret the novel in different ways: it may be a truthful historical work, but at the same time one might read it as a melodramatic story or a thriller.
Oksanen’s novel Baby Jane (2005) speaks of love between women, psychiatric problems, dependence on tranquilizers and the influence of the international pharmaceutical industry on it. Norma (2015, in English in 2017) is a family drama with elements of magic realism. Koirapuisto ('The Dog Park', 2019) looks at the relationship between two women and the artificial fertilization business against the background of contemporary Ukraine.
Some of Oksanen’s novels (such as Stalinin lehmät, 'Stalin’s Cows', and Purge) were first written as plays and only later as novels. Purge was first performed in February 2007 at the Finnish National Theatre, and was staged in both Estonia and Sweden. The first performance of Purge at the Vanemuine Theatre took place in September 2010 (directed by Liisa Smith). Purge was also made into a 5-part radio series by ERR (the Estonian broadcasting corporation, director Taago Tubin). In 2011 Purge also had an Off-Off-Broadway premiere at the La MaMa Theatre in New York. Since October 2011 Purge has also been staged independently in Oslo, Paris, London, Lisbon, Madrid, Stockholm, Reykjavik, in Lithuania, Germany and Hungary.
For the novel Purge Oksanen received the Finlandia Prize for literature in 2008, the Runeberg literature prize in 2009, the Nordic Council’s literature prize in 2010, and the Nordic Literature prize from the Swedish Academy in 2013 for all her output to that date. Oksanen was chosen as Person of the Year in 2009 by the newspaper Postimees, and was awarded the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, Class IV, in 2010. In 2009 Oksanen also received an award from the organisers of Helsinki Pride for defending the interests of the LGBT community in the Baltic countries and Russia.
A. Mv. (Translated by C. M.)
Books in Finnish
Stalinin lehmät. Helsinki: Söderström, 2003, 477 pp.
Baby Jane. Helsinki: WSOY, 2005, 231 pp.
Puhdistus. Helsinki: WSOY, 2008, 380 pp.
Kun kyyhkyset katosivat. Helsinki: LIKE, 2012, 365 pp.
Norma. Helsinki: Like, 2015, 303 pp.
Koirapuisto. Helsinki: Like, 2019, 404 pp.
Puhdistus: tragedia. Helsinki: WSOY, 2007, 148 pp.
Liian lyhyt hame. Kertomuksia keittiöstä: laululyriikkaa. Helsinki: Bonnier Kirjat, 2011, 78 pp.
Books in Estonian
Stalini lehmad. Tõlkinud Tauno Vahter. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2004, 293 lk. ['Stalinin lehmät'. Järgnevad trükid: 2009, 2014.].
Baby Jane. Tõlkinud Tiina Pappel. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2006, 229 lk. [Teine trükk: 2014, e-raamat, 2014.]
Puhastus. Tõlkinud Jan Kaus. Tallinn: Varrak, 2009, 318 lk. ['Puhdistus'. 2. trükk: 2017.]
Kui tuvid kadusid. Tõlkinud Jan Kaus. Tallinn: Varrak, 2012, 318 lk. ['Kun kyyhkyset katosivat'.]
Norma. Tõlkinud Kadri Jaanits. Tallinn: Varrak, 2016, 293 lk. [E-raamat: 2016.]