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Purity
Cover of Purity
Purity
A Novel

A New York Times bestselling magnum opus for our morally complex times from the author of Freedom

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.

A New York Times bestselling magnum opus for our morally complex times from the author of Freedom

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.

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About the Author-
  • Jonathan Franzen is the author of Purity and four other novels, most recently The Corrections and Freedom, and five works of nonfiction and translation, including Farther Away and The Kraus Project, all published by FSG. 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.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 18, 2015
    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. Agent: Susan Golomb, Susan Golomb Agency.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 1, 2015
    A twisty but controlled epic that merges large and small concerns: loose nukes and absent parents, government surveillance and bad sex, gory murder and fine art. Purity "Pip" Tyler, the hero of Franzen's fifth novel (Freedom, 2010, etc.), is a bright college grad with limited prospects: burdened with student debt, she lives in an Oakland squat, makes cold calls at a go-nowhere job, and can't stray far from an emotionally needy mom who won't reveal who her dad is. A German visitor, Annagret, encourages Purity to intern in Bolivia for the Sunlight Project, a WikiLeaks-style hacker group headed by the charismatic Andreas Wolf. Skeptical but cornered, Purity signs on. The names alone-Purity, Wolf-make the essential conflict clear, but that just frames a story in which every character is engaged in complex moral wrestling. Chief among them is Andreas, who killed Annagret's sexually abusive stepfather and has his own issues with physical and emotional manipulation. But he's not the only one Franzen dumps into the psychosexual stew. Andreas' friend Tom Aberant is a powerful journalist saddled with self-loathing and a controlling ex-wife who detests her father's wealth; Tom's lover (and employee), Leila Helou, is a muckraker skilled enough to report on missing warheads but fumbling at her own failed marriage to Charles Blenheim, a novelist in decline. In Freedom, everybody was eager to declaim moral certitudes; here, Franzen is burrowing deep into each person's questionable sense of his or her own goodness and suggests that the moral rot can metastasize to the levels of corporations and government. And yet the novel's prose never bogs down into lectures, and its various back stories are as forceful as the main tale of Purity's fate. Franzen is much-mocked for his primacy in the literary landscape (something he himself mocks when Charles grouses about "a plague of literary Jonathans"). But here, he's admirably determined to think big and write well about our darkest emotional corners. An expansive, brainy, yet inviting novel that leaves few foibles unexplored.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    April 1, 2015
    This new novel feels a bit different from Franzen's previous works but is still soaked in family concerns. Named Purity but called Pip, the young heroine is burdened with student debt and squatting with anarchists in Oakland, even as she shadowboxes relentlessly with her mom. After a chance encounter with a German peace activist, Pip accepts an internship in South America with the Sunlight Project, which aims to unearth the world's secrets. (Maybe she'll learn who her dad is.) Charismatic Sunlight leader Andreas Wolf gets interested in Pip, as the issues veer from parenting to the war between the sexes.

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from February 1, 2016

    At 23, Pip is trying to pay off her enormous student loan by working at a glorified call center job. She's so poor that she stays with other squatters in a dilapidated house in Oakland, CA-so maybe Pip can be forgiven for coming across a tiny bit hostile. Unfortunately, she has developed the qualities of an emotional leech, constantly seeking approval from father figures in a pathetic attempt to fill the void left by her own unidentified father. Then two Germans show up at her house, and Pip becomes part of a decades-old tangle of stories that link her mother to her father and to the enigmatic Andreas Wolf, an East German expat with a terrifying interior life. The individual tales are epic, nonlinear chronicles that brush up against one another, leaving tantalizing traces of what remains untold. Pip's mother is a mysterious personality despite her overbearing possessiveness. And Wolf has an obsession with a journalist named Tom Aberant. All of these people are vitally connected to Pip, whose youthful mix of intelligence, cynicism, and desperate yearning will hook teens. Readers with an interest in history, politics, and the implications of social media will enjoy the characters' intellectual discourse. Recommend this extraordinary novel to teens ready for a complex yet engaging read that delivers international events and trends with the same insight as the best nonfiction but is peopled with figures who will be impossible to forget. VERDICT An exceptional introduction to fine literature for mature teen readers.-Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

    Copyright 2016 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Purity
A Novel
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