This book was different. It had a mood. It enveloped you like a thick, sticky fog and wouldn't quite let you out. It drew you in so far, you felt like you were in the Estonian forest, probably in a log style farmhouse, and surrounded by the mist. You could pretty much smell the horseradish, feel the charcoal on your teeth throughout this book. It was an experience.
I wonder if it is just something we don't do in Western novels/stories. I liken my experience with this novel to my partner's when we sat down to watch the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He wasn't overly keen to watch it, but within the first 5 mins (which was only the intro titles) he was on the edge of his seat desperate to see where the movie went. In those 5 mins, the mood (his words not mine this time) was so unlike any thing that we were used to, and he was lapping it up. For him with the movie and for me with this novel, we weren't patronised, we weren't talked down to, we were just taken along on a story.
As a Westerner who's biggest problem in life at the moment is that her phone battery doesn't last more than a day (what the hell Ericsson!), being thrown into a world of either being occupied in your own country by the Soviets, then the Germans, then the Soviets again for good measure or finally being able to get to the promise of the West only to be forced into sex slavery, was needless to say perspective finding. The worlds these women experienced while not entirely unheard of, casts the light my cushy Aussie lifestyle.
Both Aliide and Zara were likeable to some extent, and you were able to empathise and sympathise with them both, although Zara more. You understood and even respected their decisions, and honestly I do not know if I would have made entirely different ones from Aliide to keep myself safe. The desperation of the women oozes off the page and into you.
Criticisms, as we all know I always have some. While I felt that the "darker things" (trying not to spoil here, so work with me) was dealt with delicately while still conveying the horror of it all in the Soviet area parts of the book, I felt that it was overly explicit when mentioned in the 1990s timeline. Although it could have been mentioned more I guess... so maybe that was the delicate way of putting it... Secondly, I think that Part Five of the book was kinda unnecessary, and the book could have end those 10-15pp earlier. It didn't alter the story or decrease my like of the book, just was a bit... meh.
Overall a highly recommended read. There are one or two bits that sort of burn into your mind so make sure you have some youtube videos of hilarious animals to get you to sleep. And for some reason I had a dream that I single-handedly had to save Latvia last night... not sure if that is related... Anyways, 5 stars from me.
Next: Congo with The Heart of Darkness.