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The Sunday Times bestseller from the author of Freedom and The Corrections
Young Pip Tyler doesn’t know who she is. She knows that her real name is Purity, that she’s saddled with $130,000 in student debt, that she’s squatting with anarchists in Oakland, and that her relationship with her mother – her only family – is hazardous. But she doesn’t have a clue who her father is, why her mother chose to live as a recluse with an invented name, or how she’ll ever have a normal life.
Enter the Germans. A glancing encounter with a German peace activist leads Pip to an internship in South America with the Sunlight Project, an organization that traffics in all the secrets of the world – including, Pip hopes, the secret of her origins. TSP is the brainchild of Andreas Wolf, a charismatic provocateur who rose to fame in the chaos following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now on the lam in Bolivia, Andreas is drawn to Pip for reasons she doesn’t understand, and the intensity of her response to him upends her conventional ideas of right and wrong.
Jonathan Franzen’s Purity is a grand story of youthful idealism, extreme fidelity, and murder. The author of The Corrections and Freedom has imagined a world of vividly original characters – Californians and East Germans, good parents and bad parents, journalists and leakers – and he follows their intertwining paths through landscapes as contemporary as the omnipresent Internet and as ancient as the war between the sexes. Purity is the most daring and penetrating book yet by one of the major writers of our time.
‘Furiously funny’ Telegraph
‘Superbly readable, it is the work of a novelist at the height of his powers … This new work by an American master of realism has novelistic pleasures in abundance’ Sunday Times
‘Purity makes the most compelling reading, and Franzen reveals himself here to be even more a master than ever’ Evening Standard
‘It has kept me up every night for a week, and now that I’m done, I’ll miss its wit, its messed-up characters and its emotional complexity’ Financial Times
‘Franzen’s most fleet-footed, least self-conscious and most intimate novel yet … Franzen has added a new octave to his voice’ New York Times
About the author
Jonathan Franzen is the author of four other novels, most recently The Corrections and Freedom, and five works of nonfiction and translation, including Farther Away and The Kraus Project. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the German Akademie der Künste, and the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Secrets are power, and power corrupts even the most idealistic in Franzen's (Freedom) exhaustive bildungsroman. Two years out of college, self-conscious, acerbic Purity "Pip" Tyler is saddled with crushing student loans and an overbearing, emotionally disturbed mother who refuses to reveal the identity of Pip's father. Living in Oakland, Calif., Pip meets and confides in beautiful German activist Annagret, who calls on her former boyfriend, Andreas Wolf, to give Pip an internship working with Wolf's cultish Sunlight Project, a WikiLeaks-like operation based in Bolivia. Once there, Pip is both flattered by and suspicious of the attention she receives from the magnetic Wolf; when she returns to America to do his bidding in secret, she becomes increasingly attached to people he may want to hurt. Pip strives to retain her integrity, but the world in which she is coming of age is, in Franzen's view, sick, its people born only to suffer and harm. Mining the connection between Pip and Wolf, Franzen renders half a dozen characters over the course of six decades, via extensive origin stories that plumb their psychological corners. Franzen succeeds more than he fails, but the failures are damning. At first, the mercurial, angry Pip and the arrogant, abrasive Wolf seem drawn to actively challenge the reader's sympathies. Then there are the novel's fathers, who are almost all abusive or absent, and its mothers, who are disturbed, cruel, or dumb. Gradually, it becomes clear that Franzen's greatest strength is his extensive, intricate narrative web which includes a murder in Berlin, stolen nukes in Amarillo, and a billion-dollar trust. Though the novel lacks resonance, its pieces fit together with stunning craftsmanship.