biographies – j. franzen

Jonathan Franzen (1959) is an American novelist and essayist: Born in Western Springs, Illinois he grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1981 he studied at the Freie Universität in Berlin. Back to America he got married and moved with his wife to Boston to pursue a career as a novelist. In 1987 the couple moved to New York, where he started his career as a novelist.
His novels are mainly sprawling and realist novels dealing with about the deterioration of the family in suburban, middle class America.
The Twenty-Seventh City (1988) is a complex, partly satirical thriller about a family under intense pressure. The action develops during the intricate political conspiracy and financial disorders in St. Louis, Missouri in 1984.
Strong Motion (1992) is an impassioned social criticism and a conscientiousness research about controversial themes such as abortion, feminism, corporate malfeasance, exploitative capitalism.
The Corrections (2002) is about the lives of the Lamberts, a traditional repressed Midwestern family whose children have fled to the East Coast to start new lives free from the influence of their parents. It depicts in detail the personal growth and mistakes of each family member and analyses the decline of the technology-driven economic boom of the late nineties. The novel is set in the late 20th century with flashbacks and flashes in the future.
The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (2006 ) is a memoir that reflects the values and contradictions of the American midwest in the 1960s. Franzen presents  Charlie Brown from the Peanuts cartoons as an exemplary representation of life of the American middle class in Missouri, and countless similar towns. The old values such as the love of nature are declining together with the traditional religious belief. Using his mother’s death as a metaphor for all human relationships, Franzen concludes that relationships are essential to our existence although we often fail to recognize and appreciate their importance at the time.
How to Be Alone (2002) is a collection of fourteen essays mainly appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Details, and Graywolf Forum. The main theme is “the problem of preserving individuality and complexity in a noisy and distracting mass culture: the question of how to be alone.”
Freedom (2010) follows the complex relationships of several members of an American family, the Berglunds, through the last decades of the twentieth century and concludes near the beginning of the Obama administration.
The Kraus Project (2013) an introduction to the essays of Austrian satirist Karl Kraus.
Purity (2015) tells the intersecting stories of several different people with a separate viewpoint in each chapter.

Purity  – The book is a grand story of youthful idealism, extreme fidelity, and murder. Set on a background dealing with contemporary (internet ) and old (the war between the sexes) matters, it presents intersecting stories of several vividly original characters, giving their separate viewpoint in each chapter.

The first character the book introduces is Pip Tyler, a young woman who does not know about her origins and who her father is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she has a student debt of $130,000, that she is part of a group of anarchists in Oakland, and that she has a difficult relationship with her mother who lives as a recluse with an invented name. She often wonders if she will ever have a normal life.

Then the author introduces the Germans: a German peace activist and a chariamtic provocateur. The activist leads Pip to a stage in South America with the Sunlight Project, an organisation that traffics in all the secrets of the world – and Pip hopes to find the secret about her father and her origins. Andreas Wolf is the provocateur who has become famous in the chaos after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Pip meets him for reasons she does not understand while he is escaping to Bolivia. The intensity of her response to him changes her conventional ideas of right and wrong.

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