A Finnish novel on the dark side of the beauty business


Norma. By Sofi Oksanen. Translated by Owen Witesman.Knopf; 306 pages; $26.95. Atlantic Books; £12.99.

LOOK at a female celebrity’s head and you will often see a product of the world’s fastest-growing yet least-regulated businesses. The traffic in human hair for use as extensions had its traditional headquarters in India and China. Its spread to South-East Asia and, above all, Ukraine fuels the latest novel by Sofi Oksanen, a Finnish author. In previous novels, notably the award-winning “Purge”, Ms Oksanen linked the oppression of her mother’s Estonian homeland by both Soviet and Nazi occupiers to the cross-border exploitation of women today. In “Norma”, the commerce in hair shorn from poor women to beautify their wealthier sisters propels a many-stranded thriller. It also threads the surrogate-pregnancy industry and “rent-a-womb tourism” into its dense weave.

Norma, a lonesome heroine with locks that lengthen at a supernatural speed, has just lost her mother—the “born…Continue reading

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