Purity – Review by Naomi


Naomi is one of the only kids who gets all the funny parts of 12th Night before I explain them to the class. She’s kind and clever, unassuming yet dramatic (yes, both — on stage, she comes alive, while in class, she stays relatively quiet). A gem of a student. She’s reviewing a book that is for an adult audience, but she loves this story. Sounds fascinating.

Disclaimer: This book was written for adults and may not be appropriate for middle school aged children.

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 has always concealed her own real name, or how she can 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 dark-hued comedy of youthful idealism, extreme fidelity, and murder. The author of The Corrections and Freedom has created yet another cast 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. Jonathan Franzen is a major author of our time, and Purity is his edgiest and most searching book yet. – Amazon

Purity by Jonathan Franzen is the story of an abnormal girl named Pip with an even more abnormal childhood who goes on a journey to find out who she is. On the way, she meets Andreas Wolf, the founder and face of a Wikileaks-esque organization. After being immersed in the business of secrets, Pip learns that Andreas may be hiding something darker than the secrets which his project claims to bring to light. The book switches between the perspectives of Pip, Andreas, and two investigative journalists as the lives of each of the characters interweave. Although it is not afraid to cover big topics, like life on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall and dehumanization in the age of the internet and social media, at the heart of the story, Purity is about the intimate truths of humanity. The book is packed with revelations until the very last page, revelations about human envy and psychopathology, but also about how hope and love prevail. The prose is engaging and clever. Each character has their own authentic voice, and Purity portrays mental illness and the limits of the human brain in a way that is both ambitious and feels real. Through this earnestness, Franzen offers commentary on the shallowness of revolution and martyrdom, the corrupting nature of power, and even, in a burst of self-deprecating humor, the stupidity of attempting to write the next “Great American Novel”. The many plot twists teach you that things aren’t always as they seem, and the characters’ elaborate backstories and development compel you to be more compassionate towards other people. The book gives you a whole new outlook on human nature, love, and even death. It is a story that will stay with you as long as you live, the story of the idealization, commercialization, and exploitation of, as the title suggests, purity.


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