Jonathan Franzen

Portrait Jonathan Franzen
© Hartwig Klappert

Jonathan Franzen
was born in Western Springs, Illinois, in 1959 and grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. He studied Literature in Philadelphia and in Berlin.

Franzen, who started to write while in college, is the author of three novels and one collection of essays (‘How to be Alone’, 2002), which contains a revised version of his much discussed article from 1996 on the future and destiny of the novel (‘Why Bother?’). He writes for the ‘New Yorker’ and ‘Harper’s Magazine’.

With his third novel, ‘The Corrections'(2001), Franzen impressively revived the genre of the social novel. Against the background of a turbulent globalized world economy, he tells the story of how the Lambert family falls apart. While Alfred Lambert’s character, whose life had been characterized by self-control and discipline, disintegrates through the course of Parkinson’s disease, his wife Enid is obsessed with celebrating the illusion of a happy life in a final Christmas celebration together. Their three children try to ‘correct’ their parents’ image of life.  But as is stated in the book, “What made correction possible also doomed it”, and while the next generation is confronted with its respective failure, the book concludes with a more comprehensive correction: the collapse of the virtual boom on the financial markets.  Franzen goes from the world of the Midwest in the 60s that is rooted in traditional moral ideas to present day American cities that are obsessed with technology, that believe in effortless profit in a never-ending economic boom and that emphasize mental balance and sexual fulfillment.  At the same time his narrative technique recalls the writing of the great realists of the 19th century. His language is ruthlessly exact, but at the same time compassionate in its humor and is characterized by an unsentimental humaneness. In 2003, the German translation of Franzen’s first novel, ‘The Twenty-Seventh City’ (1988), was published. In this novel, S. Jammu, a young Indian woman from Bombay becomes chief of police in St. Louis.  What starts like another variation of the American dream develops in the course of the ensuing political conspiracy into a black comedy.  Franzen combines realistic and fantastic elements, thereby brilliantly and cuttingly taking stock of American society. His autobiographically inspired novel “The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History” (2006) is the story of a young person’s life in the Mid West and a portrait of an American middle class family, oscillating between comical self-questioning and empathy.

Franzen has received various awards, including in 2001 the National Book Award for ‘The Corrections’.  He lives in New York.

© international literature festival berlin