Spew your lunch, your history and your language on me

Stalin's Cows - Sofi Oksanen (front cover of Danish version)

Sofi Oksanen, I wish I could read Finnish so I could read your debut novel in its originality. Not that the translation was bad at all. It’s just… I feel there is something embedded in the language itself, that cannot be translated and understood at all. Like I have read a story that has so much cultural baggage, that this novel alone cannot satisfy my knowledge on the cultural/political aspects of this novel. And language (or expression) is a very important part of ‘Stalin’s Cows’. Language is identity and culture, it is something that both manages to distinguish you from and unite you with others on different levels. And when there is so much stigma attached to your heritage you go on the fence. But the narrative is interspersed with snippets of utterances in Estonian, Russian and Finnish that arrest my journey. And so the whole idea of denying someone the use of language, the right to express through language a part of one’s identity, proves to be futile; it wants out, it gets out, it finds ways no matter how hard you try to cover it up.

Sofi Oksanen, if I wanted to do my project justice I would sit myself down with an encyclopedia (old school), history books, essays on cultural transposition, and a dictionary, so I could tear the novel apart and let it percolate through my mind. It’s not just the words, but the enormous baggage and memory that lies behind them I want to get to. There is literature that wants to investigate itself on its own premisses, and then there is literature that needs words to give up their own agenda and become translucent – still autonomous, but hinting at another level, often in need of a personal voice, a subjective form to utilise language. And then, language is really just a conveyor belt.

Sofi Oksanen, the way you decide to delve into the logic of an eating disorder fascinates me. Dealing with it all cool and distanced, on a theoretical level, a tour de force in self-delusion, you chose latent communication. What does ‘Stalin’s Cows’ want to say? Is self-preservation, the physical minimum-survival-excistence, above all other aspects of life? If you spend your whole time making escape routes, creating a persona or shell, denying your identity in the process, the most engaging part of the day will not be how to live in the world, but how to endure yet another day in your own body. The logic of the eating disorder spirals through and through in Anna’s obsessive expositions and the language of food consumption and paranoia shrouds every day, every encounter, every meeting and flashback.

Sofi Oksanen, thank you.

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