Review: When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen

EBOOK; 320 P.
KNOPF, 2015/2012

From the acclaimed author of Purge comes a riveting, chillingly relevant new novel of occupation, resistance, and collaboration in Eastern Europe.

1941: In Communist-ruled, war-ravaged Estonia, two men are fleeing from the Red Army—Roland, a fiercely principled freedom fighter, and his slippery cousin Edgar. When the Germans arrive, Roland goes into hiding; Edgar abandons his unhappy wife, Juudit, and takes on a new identity as a loyal supporter of the Nazi regime…1963: Estonia is again under Communist control, independence even further out of reach behind the Iron Curtain. Edgar is now a Soviet apparatchik, desperate to hide the secrets of his past life and stay close to those in power. But his fate remains entangled with Roland’s, and with Juudit, who may hold the key to uncovering the truth…

Great acts of deception and heroism collide in this masterful story of surveillance, passion, and betrayal, as Sofi Oksanen brings to life the frailty—and the resilience—of humanity under the shadow of tyranny.

Sofi Oksanen is probably one of Finland’s most read authors. She draws a lot of her topics from her Finnish-Estonian heritage, and her historical fiction quartet depicts the events of the past century in Estonia. Her breakthrough novel and the second in the quartet, Purge, won the famed Finlandia Prize in 2008 and has been translated into several languages. When the Doves Disappeared is the third book in the quartet and is set in Estonia in the 1940s and 1960s.

When the Doves Disappeared begins with war in early 1940s where cousins Roland and Edgar are fighting against the Soviet Union for the freedom of their country. With the help of German forces the Estonians win the war, but whilst the others celebrate the newfound freedom, Roland feels conflicted about the new ally. Edgar on the other hand is sure that he will gain respect and prosperity under the new rule by taking on a new identity. However, along with the new identity, Edgar abandons his wife, who on her side has been fearing his husband’s return from the war. Twenty years later, Edgar has again changed sides and is now trying to find out what happened to Roland after the Germans arrived.

The story of When the Doves Disappeared does not follow a simple timeline, but jumps between the events of the 1940s and the events of 1960s. In the beginning of every chapter is a stamp that indicates what year is in question, which I thought was a clever way of showing time. The story revolves around the three main characters: Roland, Edgar, and Edgar’s wife Juudit. All have their own dreams, problems, deceits and weaknesses that are slowly revealed as the narration peels away the layers of the story. The topics in Oksanen’s books are often so harrowing and painful that I can only read few chapters at a time. However, once you immerse yourself in the story, the book is simply unputdownable. The writing is beautiful and I think Rogers’ translation flows really well. I’d recommend Where the Doves Disappeared to those who want to know more about the experience of Eastern Europeans during and after the WWII as well as to other lovers of historical fiction.

When the Doves Disappeared is released on February 10, 2015 in the U.S. (Knopf) and on May 7, 2015 in the UK (Atlantic Books).


She only hoped that her time wouldn’t come until some more ordinary day, that the last sound she heard would be the clink of a spoon on a saucer, the jangle of hairpins in a box, the hollow ring of a milk can set down on a table.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.



4 thoughts on “Review: When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen

    • The first book is at the moment untranslated but since each book also functions as a stand-alone, you can go ahead and begin with Purge. I also found out about the series only after reading When the Doves Disappeared, but I do plan on catching up with the first book eventually. I hope the first book will be translated soon!

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