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The burdens of too much liberty

Monday, October 25, 2010

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen made it to the bestsellers list for its remarkably simple story, with characters that one could easily identify with – for their virtues as well as their faults, and for their emotionalism. Another reason it got noticed was that Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club, referring to it as a masterpiece before millions of her viewers. This was inspite of the fact that Franzen had been rather rude in his observations when, in 2001, she had similarly selected his earlier novel, The Corrections, which went on to win the National Book Award. Freedom is also an equally good novel, starkly truthful in style and content.

Walter Berglund is the head of the family with wife Patty, and kids Joey and Jessica. Patty lives in the past, when she was a star basketball player in college, while Walter keeps himself busy, dabbling in politics and environmental issues. He intends to convert a piece of land into a bird sanctuary for the endangered Cerulean Warbler, but is also involved in coal mining which he sees as a counterbalance to US dependence on oil imports.

Patty has a troubled past; she was raped while in high school. However, she is driven by her own urges into a lascivious affair with her husband’s best friend, who happens to be a renowned musician. Joey has his problems in asserting his own individuality and his worldly achievements, never being able to measure up to his father, who scoffs at him at the smallest opportunity: During a family visit he was making only to be nice, Joey vouchsafed the details of his work…hoping to impress Walter with the size of his salary and the scope of his responsibilities, and his father all but disowned him on the spot. Until now, all his life, their relationship had essentially been a stand-off, a stalemate of wills. But now his dad was no longer content to send him on his way with a lecture…now he was shouting that Joey made him sick.

This is a look at what freedom brings among other things, lust and compromises, and moral turpitude.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Price Rs.699

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