Like everyone else, I have been eagerly awaiting Jonathan Franzen’s new novel. “Freedom” has been nine years in the making. Franzen just gave his first reading in New York City; he appeared on public radio, and his photograph made the cover of Time magazine with the caption “Great American Novelist.” Sam Tanenhaus in his New York Times review calls the book a masterpiece. He compares Franzen to Thomas Mann. Chick-lit author Jennifer Weiner, irritated by this ample publicity and the lack of such for many talented female writers, complained to her 15,000 twitter followers and termed the literary hashtag Franzenfreude.
Was she driven by what Germans call Futterneid (envy)? I can't help but be on Franzen’s side.”
“I became a writer because of German literature,” he said. His literary role models were Goethe, Kafka and Rilke. He spent two years as a Fulbright scholar studying German in Berlin and Munich. In an interview on German television he called 1981/82 in Berlin his most poetic year.
To Bernadette Conrad (Zeit, 8/04/05) he expressed his love for Thomas Mann’s fine irony and admitted to stealing some satirical passages from Karl Kraus for first novel The Twenty-Seventh City ( 1988). For a long time, he saw himself as a German writer. “Karl Kraus once compared French and German with a beautiful face and a face that has transformed itself into pure beauty," he said. "The attraction of German culture lies in the language. It is capable of horrific and wonderful things - incredibly ugly when spoken by the wrong people, but unsurpassable when used by others."
“What did you bring back from Germany?” Bernadette Conrad asked him. “An addiction to cigarettes, a higher tolerance for alcohol, skepticism about America, but also the certainty that I'd rather live in America than in Europe. I returned home cured from my longing to live in the old world,” he said.
Franzen was twenty-three in 1982 when he returned to the United States with a very German concept of literature. “Germans have a high tolerance for finding fun in challenging literature. American writers have to be entertainers; their readers expect to have a good time.” In Germany, he missed the playful, witty, and nonsensical in American literature.
Franzen once translated a book from the German. His translation of Franz Wedekind’s Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening), made for Swarthmore College’s theater department in 1986, earned him $50 and was finally published in 2007.
Schadenfreude is taking pleasure in the pain of others. Franzenfreude, according to Jennifer Weiner "is taking pain in the multiple and copious reviews being showered on Jonathan Franzen."
Freude is German for joy. I think all of us, writers and readers alike, should rejoice in his success. Why should only writers like James Patterson and Danielle Steele sell millions of books? Or to use Franzen’s words: let’s work a little harder, develop a higher tolerance and find fun in literature that makes us work.
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