Franzen: I Wanted to Adopt Iraqi Orphan to Figure Out Youth

Opinionated author says more stuff about women authors, too, in interview
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2015 12:02 PM CDT
Franzen: I Wanted to Adopt Iraqi Orphan to Figure Out Youth
Author Jonathan Franzen smiles as he speaks at an event at BookExpo America on May 27, 2015, in New York.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

To really get a handle on today's young people, would you a) hook up with your local Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter, b) volunteer at a school, or c) adopt an Iraqi orphan so you can pick his brain for why he's not idealistic or angry enough? If you're novelist Jonathan Franzen, c) was the solution that immediately leaped to mind a decade or so ago, he tells Weekend magazine via the Guardian. The now 56-year-old Franzen—known for his New Yorker essays, his award-winning novel The Corrections, and a tiff with Oprah—says he was in his late '40s when he started having a tough time relating to youth and came up with the orphan idea, which "lasted maybe six weeks." "One of the things that had put me in mind of adoption was a sense of alienation from the younger generation," he says.

"They seemed politically not the way they should be as young people. I thought people were supposed to be idealistic and angry. And they seemed kind of cynical and not very angry." It was Henry Finder, Franzen's editor at the New Yorker, who eventually talked him out of his plan—which Franzen now calls "insane"—and came up with a more sensible solution: meet up with recent university grads. "It cured me of my anger at young people," he says. Also revealed in the Weekend interview: Franzen's belief that he's "been assigned the role of an anti-women villain by certain feminist critics," as the Guardian puts it. That has led to an upswell of Twitter responses, including a series of tweets from writer Jennifer Weiner, who's had back-and-forths with Franzen before. One tweet related to the orphan bit: "Are you saying Iraqi war orphans don't exist solely for the education, moral edification of white men?" (Apropos of nothing, someone once held Franzen's eyeglasses for ransom.)

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