Dog Park by Sofi Oksanen, translated by Owen F. Witesman

When I received Dog Park by the award-winning Finnish-Estonian author, Sofi Oksanen, I was immediately intrigued by the blurb on her cover. Much of the story takes place in Ukraine, the land of my ancestors.

“Moving seamlessly between modern-day Finland and Ukraine in the early days of its post-Soviet independence, Dog Park is a keenly observed, dark, and propulsive novel set at the intersection of East and West, centered on a web of exploitation and the commodification of the female body.”

The opening scene takes place in a dog park in Helsinki, 2016, where Olenka, the protagonist, has an unexpected encounter with a woman from her past. This is not a pleasant meeting. So much is unsaid, but the reader quickly gathers that not only is Olenka and the other woman under threat, but also is the family of four that these two women are watching.

“Told in first person, the author Oksanen takes us back and forth in time, giving us just enough crumbs to keep us engaged and questioning, and what a thrilling ride it is.”

Told in first person, the author Oksanen takes us back and forth in time, giving us just enough crumbs to keep us engaged and questioning, and what a thrilling ride it is. The reader is thrown into a world where young women engage in nefarious practices—though on the surface, legitimate—to get ahead in a country that is trying to find its footing after the fall of the Soviet Empire. Olenka, though she is barely named in this story (which adds to the intrigue) is a former model who now runs an agency for infertile couples, anxious to have a child of their own. The interplay between egg donors and couples desperate to conceive or work through surrogate mothers exposes one of the many avenues of corruption that is detailed in this complex story. Olenka, in her path to success, brushes up against the powerful, only to discover a family secret, which explains the mystery of her father’s untimely and tragic death.

The other curious element in this story is how the author informs us of Olenka’s intimate relationship with an unsavoury character. He’s referred to as “you”.  It takes a while for us to understand who “you” is and “why” she keeps bringing him up.

The author skillfully sprinkles in enough history, notably Ukraine’s conflicts in the Donbas region and its history under the Russian thumb, to give us a greater understanding of why the characters in Dog Park engage in so much corruption. What I also found intriguing about this story is the fact that most characters in this story were unlikeable, even the protagonist, who takes advantage of anyone who can help her get ahead.  

Sofi Oksanen does a superb job of showing the underbelly of a culture very much in the news today.  She also shows us how women can be manipulated in an industry that preys on the most vulnerable, those who desperately want a child of their own and will do anything to get one.

SOFI OKSANEN is a Finnish Estonian novelist and playwright. Her novel Purge won the Prix Femina and the Nordic Council Literature Prize, and When the Doves Disappeared was the winner of the Swedish Academy Nordic Prize and longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award. Her previous novel, Norma, was a #1 bestseller in Finland and was a finalist for the Young Aleksis Literature Prize and the New Academy Prize in Literature. Oksanen was recently awarded a Medal of Honour by the Ukrainian Association in Finland. She has also received the Budapest Grand Prize, the European Book Prize, and the Chevalier Medal of Honour from the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. She lives in Helsinki.

OWEN F. WITESMAN is a translator of Finnish and Estonian into English. He has translated works by Finlandia Prize–winning author Kari Hotakainen, Juhani Aho, and Leena Lehtolainen, among others. He lives in Utah.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Anansi International (Oct. 5 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 352 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487008910
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487008918

 -- Website

Diana Stevan likes to joke she’s a Jill of all trades as she’s worked as a family therapist, teacher, librarian, model, actress and sports reporter for CBC television. She’s the author of five novels and a novelette.

Her novels cross genres: A Cry from the Deep, a romantic mystery/adventure; The Rubber Fence, women’s fiction; and Lukia’s Family Saga series, historical/biographical fiction. Based on her Ukrainian grandmother's family’s life in Russia and in Canada, the series is a trilogy covering the years 1915-1943: Sunflowers Under Fire, Lilacs in the Dust Bowl, and Paper Roses on Stony Mountain.

When Diana isn’t writing, she loves to garden, travel, and read. With their two daughters grown, she lives with her husband Robert on Vancouver Island and West Vancouver, British Columbia.