I wrote about the darkness of suppression of a totalitarian regime and how that influences the lives of people, when I discussed The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes and Jonathan Doerr’s All The Light We Can Not See.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen is the third book I recently read that is dominated by the totalitarian overcast. In this case the dictatorship is the DDR, East Germany during the times of the iron curtain.
In long descriptive sections we learn how Andreas has grown up under the suppression of the DDR. He becomes a critic of the regime, and after the fall of the Berlin wall he starts an organisation like WikiLeaks. But his personality is damaged for good and the organisation becomes an instrument for the expression of his own grandiosity.
“Well, you say you’re about citizen journalism. You’re supposedly in the business of leaks. But isn’t your real business—” “Cow manure?” “I was going to say fame and adulation. The product is you.”
Andreas is unable to shake of this state of mind, keeps feeling unsafe, haunted, unable to be happy. This state of mind we have also seen in The Noise of Time and in All The Light We Can Not See. When he is turned down by his girlfriend and she leaves him, his madness takes desastrous forms.
He’d never experienced grief like this. It seemed as if he really loved her after all. Grief passed, however. Before he was even home again, he could see his future. He would never again make the mistake of trying to live with a woman. For whatever reason (probably his childhood), he wasn’t suited for it, and the strong thing to do was to accept this. His computer had made a weakling of him. He also had a vague, shameful memory of climbing onto Annagret’s lap and trying to be her baby. Weak! Weak! But now his mother, with her meddling, had given him the pretext he needed to be free of both her and Annagret. A double deus ex machina—the good luck of a man fated to dominate.
He thus reaches a megalomanic mindset in which he is convinced the world and everyone turns around himself.
This contrasts massively with Pip (Purity) the second protagonist in the story.
Both of them are also grown up under the burden of a very dominant mother. Purity is betrayed by her parents, finds out about that but refuses to blame them of anything. Andreas however, escapes , leaves his mother behind, unable to forgive and take responsibility for his own life.
In contrast to the self-destroying conclusion Andreas derives, Purity is able to get into harmany with her past, she faces her mother, forgives her parents for what they have done to her, and even arranges to settle her mother’s problems.