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Norma by Sofi Oksanen


by Sofi Oksanen

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9310184,576 (3.19)6



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English (8)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  All languages (10)
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‘’He who controls dreams, controls the world. He who controls hair, controls women.’’

Hair has always been one of the major features that attract attention in women and men. Beautiful locks, lovely bangs, sleek ponytails, highlights, volume, curls….This book puts hair in the centre of the story, albeit in a different light. It is an unusual novel, innovative, modern, disturbing, unique.

Having previously read [b:Purge|7029668|Purge|Sofi Oksanen|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1328822631s/7029668.jpg|3426310] by Sofi Oksanen and with [b:When the Doves Disappeared|22318383|When the Doves Disappeared|Sofi Oksanen|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1408925040s/22318383.jpg|21384967] on hold (I’ve recently started it,actually), I couldn't wait to be one of the first to read her new novel.The title attracted me at once. ‘’Norma’’ - a beautiful name- reminded me of the famous opera by Vincenzo Bellini, although the young heroine in Oksanen’s novel couldn’t be more different than the fiery priestess who was jilted by her lover and father of her children. In our novel, Norma is born with an unusual gift (curse?). She is able to understand the feelings of everyone she meets, their illnesses, their aches in body and soul.Her own hair responds by acquiring a life of its own. I cannot write much more because the spoilers are lurking, but you have to admit that it cannot get more original than that in terms of premise.

Oksanen’s writing is raw and poetic, beautiful and full of secrets, not unlike ‘’Purge’’. However, while ‘’Norma’’ isn’t an easy book and is quite high in the levels of disturbing and weird, it cannot be compared to the sheer horror that is ‘’Purge’’. And this is a trait that shows how significant Oksanen’s offerings to the Literature of our times are. 3 books, all of them different, but all equally engaging, unique, with thick plots and interesting characters. ‘’Norma’’ is definitely heavy on the magical realism element- which I adore- so if you don’t like this genre, this book may not be for you. However, the way the story has been put together is so precise and so meticulously structured that I promise you won’t find it odd. And if you do, remember that odd means ‘’not boring’’.

Oksanen tackles many issues in this book. The crown goes to the importance of hair through the ages. No matter the century, the country, the culture, the social status, all women have always desired the most beautiful hair they could get. Here, we are shown the hair types and hairstyles that are admired most in different corners of the world, the different cultural perspectives. And what happens when people understand that there is a need and a great demand for a specific ‘’product’’? Commerce begins. And what follows it? Black market, most likely. Yes, Oksanen creates a rather intricate web of ‘’hair-mafia’’ (for lack of a better word) that mainly operates in the regions of Finland, Russia and Ukraine and extends to many other countries. Now, I had never heard of anything similar before and I cannot verify how ‘’realistic’’ this is, but I don’t actually care since the way it is presented is both believable and plausible. This is good enough for me.

Another issue that the writer stresses is the craving for a child. She weaves ‘’baby factories’’ and illegal adoptions into the story, so we have two parallel narratives that are more connected that it initially seems. Depression is also a major theme. Depression that stems from being different, from a society that labels you as a ‘’freak’’ and tries either to destroy you or to use you to its own benefits. And it will destroy you afterwards. The end is the same, the route may change, but the closure is almost guaranteed.

If I had to name the ‘’weakest link’’ of this book that is no less than exceptional, I’d choose the characters. I felt that I never really got to know them fully. I liked Norma. She was clever and brave and vulnerable, carrying a heavy burden on her shoulders. Alvar was also very interesting. He was a perfect mix of dangerous and dashing and his interactions with Norma were brilliant. However, the other characters such as Anita, Marion or the mysterious Helena were nothing to write home about, in my opinion. They were necessary for the plot to advance and that’s about it.

Having read some comments, I feel the need to say that you should give this book a chance. If you enjoy weird stories, if you love a combination of Magical Realism and Contemporary Fiction, then ‘’Norma’’ is waiting. And after all, it’s Sofi Oksanen. Just give it time and care and full attention.

Many thanks to Knopf and Edelweiss for this ARC in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
An utterly strange and beguiling magic-realist mystery that creates a feminine compliment to Kafka's fiction: a woman blessed/cursed with fantastically powered hair unravels the enigmatic death of her mother. A thoughtful meditation on body & beauty that's also a clever, dark, fun contemporary folk tale. For fans of Helen Oyeyemi (Boy, Snow, Bird) & Lydia Yuknavich (Book of Joan). ( )
  Chamblyman | May 20, 2018 |
An utterly strange and beguiling magic-realist mystery that creates a feminine compliment to Kafka's fiction: a woman blessed/cursed with fantastically powered hair unravels the enigmatic death of her mother. A thoughtful meditation on body & beauty that's also a clever, dark, fun contemporary folk tale. For fans of Helen Oyeyemi (Boy, Snow, Bird) & Lydia Yuknavich (Book of Joan). ( )
  Chamblyman | May 20, 2018 |
Yes, you guessed it, this is another of those magic-realist feminist crime novels set in the milieu of the Finnish human-hair-and-surrogate-baby mafia...

It sounds like an interesting premise, and it gives Oksanen the opportunity to play around with ideas about the commercial exploitation of women's bodies, but somehow it didn’t really manage to grab me. Perhaps there were too many different storylines going on, and perhaps the author put too much effort into trying to confuse us into jumping to the wrong conclusions about her characters. ( )
  thorold | Dec 23, 2017 |
Norma investigates her mother's suicide and uncovers secrets long-buried in her family's history as well as her mother's involvement in vile criminal enterprises. All the while Norma hides her own secret from the world.

The cover. The nondescript title. A woman with magical hair who smells lies and death. Oh how I wanted to love this book. Sigh.

The mystery itself was weak and I felt absolutely zero tension or urgency despite the seemingly constant threat of death or institutionalization to Norma and Marion. The illegal hair trade, and the relentless talk of how important hair is to women's beauty, bored me. You'd think the baby farming would have packed some punch, but no, it's treated with such flippancy that it felt as if it were picked from a list of "horrible things humans do to other humans" and only tossed in for effect.

Plus, the "magical realism" failed to convince, let alone enchant.

So, one star for the idea; one star for Anita's investigation and videos; half a star for the cover. I couldn't recommend this book to anyone and I likely won't read another book by Oksanen.

2.5 stars


The only fairy-tale reference I noted:

"Her mother had always hunted for women who might be like Norma, and her home was plastered with images of various Rapunzels. The shelves sagged under the weight of their stories. She wanted to assure Norma, who often felt down because of her hair, that the beauty of women who looked like this had been admired and immortalized."


Passages that gave me pause with regard to the author's choices, particularly with the modern day character of Marion Lambert:

Marion Lambert (2013): "'The beauty industry has always been women's territory. It's made up of microbusinesses that people can run out of their homes if they have to. It takes almost no capital, but whenever it becomes profitable, someone swoops in and takes over. Every time it's the same, whether it's women or colored people. We can be consumers but not owners, and we never get rich.'"

Marion Lambert (2013): "A gang of immigrant boys was hanging around near the halal butcher shop...Since Anita's death, she flinched every time she saw darker-skinned young people, even though she realized that no one would connect her to the attack." It's later revealed that Marion sought and hired them to attack her father's bodyguards in order to help Anita escape.

Eva Naakka (1920s): "It didn't help that Johannes had arranged for living quarters in a Finnish boardinghouse in Harlem. There were no other white people living there, and her blond hair stood out...Eva was constantly afraid that she'd hear the sound of scissors at the base of her ear." Because, everyone knows, Black women were so desperate to have white women's hair for their wigs, they could strike at any moment. [insert eye roll]

Marion Lambert (2013): "White-girl flow was never going out of style; black women would always want what you couldn't do with Afro locks."

Eva Naakka (1920s): "Betty was a black woman and would know to keep her mouth shut because no one would listen to her. Could Eva accuse Betty of the murders? Whose story would the public believe: a colored woman's or a Communist Finn's? No, it wouldn't work. Eva's position was no stronger than that of a black parlor maid." ( )
  flying_monkeys | Nov 18, 2017 |
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If everything goes well, by August we can sit back and enjoy good food, sleep, and spa treatments.
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When Anita Naakka jumps in front of an oncoming train, her daughter, Norma, is left alone with the secret they have spent their lives hiding: Norma has supernatural hair, sensitive to the slightest changes in her mood -- and the moods of those around her -- moving of its own accord, corkscrewing when danger is near. And so it is her hair that alerts her, while she talks with a strange man at her mother's funeral, that her mother may not have taken her own life. Setting out to reconstruct Anita's final months -- sifting through puzzling cell phone records, bank statements, video files -- Norma begins to realise that her mother knew more about her hair's powers than she let on: a sinister truth beyond Norma's imagining. As Sofi Oksanen leads us ever more deeply into Norma's world, weaving together past and present, she gives us a dark family drama that is a searing portrait of both the exploitation of women's bodies and the extremes to which people will go for the sake of beauty.… (more)

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