This September in Zagreb, the Festival of World Literature hosted Sofi Oksanen, the author of one of the first novels about intimate violence among lesbian couples. Oksanen is a prominent Finnish author who received many awards for her work: she was nominated for the literary prize Runeberg for her first novel Stalin’s Cows (2003), and won several prizes for her novel Purge (2010), including the prestigious Nordic Council Literature Prize.
Her visit to Zagreb included the screening of the movie Purge based on her novel of the same name, a panel discussion “We Survived Communism” together with Slavenka Drakulić, Julyja Rabinowich and Seida Serdarevića as moderator on September the 6ͭʰ, and a presentation of her own work in an interview on September the 7ͭʰ. Her most influential works deal with the communist past of the Eastern European countries, collective traumas, nostalgia and her role in the present, but always focusing on the experiences of women. For that reason, some critics place her work in the category of the so called ‘women’s fiction’, which could be considered problematic because it might imply essentialist assumptions about the nature of human experiences based on gender. However, it is significant that her novels make women active subjects and participants of history, give another perspective on women’s suffering by removing the stigma of victimhood and offer a critique of the patriarchal view on women’s sexuality. Also, Oksanen is one of the first novelists to tackle the subject of violence among lesbian couples, which she does in her second novel Baby Jane (2005).
The story takes place in Helsinki in the nineties and follows the relationship of the narrator and the main protagonist Piki. From being a very popular and outspoken girl, Piki turns into a jealous, self-destructive and resigned person with panic disorder and pill addiction. Besides focusing on the relationship between the two girls, the novel puts Piki’s anxiety in the context of societal misogyny in the pharmaceutical industry and psychiatric care. Oksanen said that she deals with the subject of female mental disorders “because they are a crucial part of the history of womankind”. “This history”, she further added, “was always tightly connected with disorders and biology. The control over women was always justified by their sex and biology which was considered itself as, for instance, the cause of hysteria. Today, these same symptoms are defined as eating disorders or panic.”
Even though the novel is “claustrophobically” (a term used by the author herself) focused on the couple and Piki’s panic disorder, Oksanen intention was to write about the problems of society. This view is important because it underlines that problems and violence in relationships most often do not arise from the character of the individuals involved but rather from problematic social conditions. In this case, the pathologization of women and women’s sexuality for the reproduction of their oppression and the profit of the pharmaceutical industry.
 HINA, (2015) Obračun s poviješću u romanima Sofi Oksanen, Novi list. [Online] 29.08.2015. Available at http://www.novilist.hr/Kultura/Knjizevnost/Obracun-s-povijescu-u-romanima-Sofi-Oksanen