Purity

Purity

by Jonathan Franzen

Overview: 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.

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.

Gail Reid (12/05/15): I couldn't begin to summarize Jonathan Franzen's latest 600 page megawork but suffice it to say it centers on 24-year-old Purity "Pip" Tyler facing mountainous student debt. Pip was raised by a single parent who has long ago changed her name, lives in obscurity, and refuses to provide any clues to the identity of Pip's father. All of this interfaces with Andreas Wolf an East German dissident- now world famous - whose project Sunlight mirrors Wikileaks and whose fame rivals Assange and Snowden. Throw in two more characters, Tom and Leila, award winning investigative journalists at the Denver Independent, then tie them both to Pip and Andreas in a mind-boggling story that spans across northern California, Denver, Wichita, Philadelphia, NY, East Germany, Belize and Bolivia.

I agree with Faith that the story is disjointed. "Purity" is not nearly as compelling a read as Franzen's earlier book "Freedom" which I loved. But, I think there is much in its favor. Franzen is a superb writer: his vocabulary, descriptions and dialog as well as the depth he provides his characters are unparalleled. 3+
Rating: ***+

Faith Bowers (10/22/15): I just finished Purity and I liked most of it. The book was very wordy and repetitive. The symbolism between the "leaking" Sunlight Project and the journalism of Denver Independence versus the McCaskill meats went over my head.

I enjoyed the character development of all the main characters though I did not like Annabelle as a married woman or Andreas as a married man. There are many character names beginning with A and that may mean something. We get the complete history of many of the characters but not Purity. We do see her personal growth and her ability to accept what is her due at the end of the novel. We come to love her mother's ability to love Purity though she and others are definitely not stable.

I kept on and the book got better. I loved The Corrections and did not love Freedom. This is a better book via East Germany, Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Bolivia; it is quite a read (ride?)
Rating: ***

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