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Title: Freedom

Writer: Jonathan Franzen

Publisher:Picador (2011)

Pages: 706 p

Bought at: Kinokuniya Plaza Senayan (IDR 84k)

Freedom is an epic story of an American family: their flaws, dreams, tragedies, and achievements. Most importantly, the meaning of loving and living freely. What does freedom mean? To omit all boundaries and norms? To follow your heart’s desires and put it above anything else in the world?

This is my very first time reading Jonathan Franzen’s book; and it’s totally an unexpected experience indeed! Like a roller coaster ride, Franzen can bring us to the highest and lowest points of his characters. From hating each person in the book to loving them and sympathize with them just because you can relate so well with them.It’s a crazy, exhausting, and thrilling ride, but worth all the 706 pages!

The story revolves around a family living in Midwest. Walter Berglund, the idealist father, coming from a poor family, working and struggling hard all his life. He loves his wife Patty so much, maybe more than he loves himself. But then comes a period in his life, the middle age period, where he has to choose between his idealism, dream, and biting reality. Does compromising become the only option?

Patty Berglund, the so-called perfect mother, coming from a wealthy politician family, and being excluded by her parents and siblings since she was a kid. Patty is a former basketball athlete who could be playing for professional league if only she didn’t have a serious injury. All her life she contemplated on her decision: being a full time mom instead of pursuing her career, marrying a guy who loves her dearly instead of his cool best friend (her first and eternal love – although maybe it’s only in her imagination). She was disappointed in her life: no career, crumbling family, never found a perfect way to raise her children. Does she have a second chance? And does she really deserve it?

Finally, please meet the kids: Jessica and Joey, just like two different magnet poles: sensible and lovely (for Jessica), selfish and lusty (for Joey). Joey tried so hard not to become like his father (whom he secretly admire) or his mother (whom he hates so much just because she worships him all his life).

In between, we also meet other crucial characters: Richard, the best friend (and always been a third party) of the Berglunds since the beginning of time. Connie, Joey’s possessive girlfriend who has a very different way to love him (and keep him, despite his mother’s devotion and neverending competition with her). And don’t forget the extended family: grandmother, grandfather, aunts, sisters, brothers, in-laws, etc. Franzen has a very detailed way to describe each character through the book – with nothing to hide. Brutally honest, sometimes a bit too crazy for my taste (all the sex! The affairs! The rebels!), but it’s America – so what do you expect? =)

Freedom reminds me a bit of American Beauty, a controversial movie that won several prestigious awards in late 90s. Freedom has the same dark, bitter and desperate feel that keep you waiting for a bit of happiness inside. And you never know how the story would end!

This kind of book also makes me think that parenting DOES matter, it all came from how you’ve been raised. Your small disappointment and your greatest achievement in life sometimes just depend on your earliest memory of your parents (and family). Hidden anger, bad communication, and unfinished business. Franzen can capture all that moments beautifully, richly, and make us feel really grateful, that at least, it’s not our family he’s written about! =)

Jonathan Franzen is the author of four novels (FreedomThe CorrectionsStrong Motion, and The Twenty-Seventh City), a collection of essays (How to Be Alone), a personal history (The Discomfort Zone), and a translation of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, all published by FSG. He lives in New York City and Santa Cruz, California. Freedom is his latest novel, published 9 years after his previous novel. It also took him almost 9 years to finish this book. During an interview, Franzen said that he called the book “Freedom” because he wanted to write something that can free him in some way.

…it’s possible you are freer if you accept what you are and just get on with being the person you are, than if you maintain this kind of uncommitted I’m free-to-be-this, free-to-be-that, faux freedom. (Jonathan Franzen)