Summary and book reviews of When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen

When the Doves Disappeared

by Sofi Oksanen

When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen X
When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2015, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2016, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the acclaimed author of Purge ("a stirring and humane work of art" —The New Republic) 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.

Western Estonia, Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, Soviet Union

We went to Rosalie's grave one last time and placed some wild- flowers on the grassy moonlit mound. We were silent for a moment with the blooms between us. I didn't want to let Juudit go, which is why I said out loud what a person shouldn't say in that situation:

"We'll never see each other again."

I could hear the gravel in my voice, and it brought a gleam of water to her eyes, that gleam that had often knocked me off balance, welling up and sending my rational mind lightly afloat, like a bark boat. Rocking on a stream that flowed from her eyes. Maybe I spoke bluntly to dull my own pain, maybe I just wanted to be cruel so that when she'd left she could curse me and my callousness, or maybe I yearned for some final declaration, for her to say she didn't want to leave. I was still uncertain of the movements of her heart, even after all we'd been through together.

"You...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why might the title When the Doves Disappeared have been chosen for this novel? In addition to the phrase's literal meaning, what major themes of the novel does it encapsulate?

  2. Consider the structure of the novel. The story oscillates between the Estonia of the 1940s and the Estonia of the 1960s. Likewise, narrative voice and point of view also shift from chapter to chapter. What major themes of the book does this organization of the text help to highlight and support? Alternatively, how might your interpretation of the book have differed if the story had been laid out in a linear fashion or presented with only one narrative voice throughout?

  3. Evaluate the genre. Should When the Doves Disappeared be considered a work of historical ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

While the novel’s primary trope — of ordinary people being galvanized by war to different actions and outcomes — is nothing new, Oksanen lends the story (translated seamlessly by Lola Rogers) a more raw and visceral touch. The players’ emotions are laid bare not crudely or in an overly simplistic fashion, but in ways that hit the reader with a sense of urgency that makes you take notice.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (720 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Fascinating material that's marred by the lack of an angle or perspective.

Booklist
This is powerful fiction that stirs history, war crimes, and psychology into a compelling mix.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Oksanen depicts civilian life in wartime and under communist oppression in rich historical detail, skillfully manipulating chronology and threading clues subtly throughout the narrative as suspense builds. Highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Oksanen … reminds the reader that, whatever else people in wartime may do, they are human creatures, and not the one-dimensional monsters that history makes them seem to be.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Estonia During World War II

Map of EstoniaWhen the Doves Disappeared is set in Estonia during WWII and the 1960s. The characters are very much shaped by the war and react to it in different ways.

In 1939, as World War II created major players on the world stage, the USSR and Germany shook hands on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that corralled a number of Eastern European countries into Soviet and German "spheres of influence." So it was that while Germany was busy cementing its occupation of France, Russia slowly moved its forces and large military bases into Estonia. The government was essentially dissolved and a pro-communist one was installed in its place with subsequent elections often having only one pro-Russia candidate on its ballot. Russia officially took control of ...

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