Does Activism Work – “Freedom” – a Novel by Jonathan Frantzen

It is encouraging to note that mainstream literature that has an environmental component is on the rise. ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Frantzen has received widespread acclaim.

‘Freedom’ is not a novel about the environment. However, Frantzen does nave an interest in birds and conservation and his main character is a committed environmental activist who works for The Nature Conservancy – a character who learns that life is not perfect and that pragmatism is essential to making progress. Environmentalism and conservation are therefore seamlessly worked into the broader framework of the novel without taking centre stage – much like they are in real life.

Frantzen’s views on activism and conservation are explored in a recent article in The Guardian newspaper. In this interview he makes a number of points that are valuable to environmental activists.  Here are some quotes:

“As a reader, as soon as I sense that I’m reading a piece of straight-up environmentalist advocacy, I put the piece of writing down. I feel like I’m already the converted, so don’t try to convert me. Tell me something interesting.”

“Walter comes to feel that coal is maybe not so bad. He sees that we aren’t going to stop using coal in this country, and he asks, “Why don’t we talk about how to do it better, how to do it right, rather than taking extreme positions that feel good but have no realistic alternative solutions to offer?”

“Love leads to pragmatism in a way that anger doesn’t.”

…and many more.

For those of you who love birds, or who want to get a flavour of Frantzen without delving into the whole book, try his essay “My Bird Problem” as a taster.

When environmental concerns arrive in mainstream literature and are skilfully incorporated into major novels like ‘Freedom’, it is, to my mind, a sure sign that these concerns have become a real part of our everyday lives. Such works do more for the creation of environmental awareness and exploration of the difficulties involved in addressing them than yet more statistics and doom-and-gloom bombardment telling us all what bad people we all are.

For an overview of ‘Freedom’, read the review in the New York Times.

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