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Interview with "Crossroads" author Jonathan Franzen; Interview with "No Cure for Being Human" author Kate Bowler. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 04, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
GERARD RYLE, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL CONSORTIUM OF INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS: It's harming the world. And it's important that people know
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): A bombshell investigation uncovers hidden financial dealings of the global elite. Lead journalist Gerard Ryle lifts
the lid on the Pandora Papers.
FRANCES HAUGEN, FORMER FACEBOOK PRODUCT MANAGER: I don't trust that they're willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep
Facebook from being dangerous.
GOLODRYGA: More shocking revelations from a Facebook insider. Could a whistle-blower's allegations change how the company does business?
And a new novel sparks an old fashioned literary frenzy. Author Jonathan Franzen at the "Crossroads."
KATE BOWLER, AUTHOR, "NO CURE FOR BEING HUMAN": I was just standing in my son's room last night just overwhelmed with the weight of how much I have
already been given that I didn't think I'd get.
GOLODRYGA: Religion scholar Kate Bowler comes to terms with her own frailties and finds there's no cure for being human.
GOLODRYGA: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
A massive global investigation reveals how the wealthy and powerful allegedly take advantage of offshore companies, bank accounts and trusts to
park money and assets, often as a tax shelter.
The Pandora Papers uncovers the finances of who's-who's of billionaires, celebrities and public officials, including Jordan's King Abdullah II, who
allegedly purchase 14 homes worth more than $106 million in the United Kingdom and the United States.
King Abdullah'S government says: "It is no secret that His Majesty owns a number of apartments and residences. This is not unusual nor improper."
But to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, who lead the multinational investigation, that's the problem. Leaders with the power
to end this offshore financial system instead benefit from it.
Veteran reporter Gerard Ryle is the director at the ICIJ, where he led the worldwide team of journalists who broke the Pandora Papers story. He joins
me now from Washington.
Gerard, welcome to the program.
So, clearly, this bombshell reporting has led to reverberations around the world.We see the statement from the government in Jordan. But let me ask
you to break it down for our audience who banks at their neighborhood bank, has one bank account, and that's that, and doesn't understand what this
Can you break it down for us and them?
RYLE: Well, we're talking about 11 million or almost 12 million documents from the -- basically, from people who set up accounts in offshore tax
If you go offshore in this way, you're effectively operating outside the normal parameters of finance. You can basically play in a parallel
universe. And what we're seeing here -- and we have been working with 600 journalists from more than 100 different countries, 150 different media
organizations, including "Frontline" and "The Washington Post" here in the U.S.
And we have basically been uncovering the secrets of people who are in power, basically the people who have been saying for years that this is a
system that doesn't really serve any real true purpose. And yet, effectively, here we are seeing that they themselves are benefiting from
GOLODRYGA: Yes, you have uncovered the files. We're talking about 12 million financial files of more than 330 politicians from 90 countries.
And this should, all be said, is legal. How is this legal? And how have they been able to take advantage of these loopholes?
RYLE: Well, if you go offshore, you can basically set up a company that will allow you to operate almost entirely in secret, unless, of course,
something like this happens and journalists get ahold of the information.
And what we're seeing here are really the secrets of these powerful people from all of these different countries. And it may be legal. When we first
published our previous investigation called The Panama Papers, people were saying at the time that was all legal. And, of course, since then, more
than $1.4 billion in back taxes have been recovered, and a lot of people have gone to jail as a result of that.
I think time will tell whether or not everything we're seeing here is legal. But I guess from now what we're seeing is certainly questions being
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And for those watching at home, I'm sure many can remember that investigation of, The Panama Papers, back in 2016. And that was jaw-
dropping in and of itself.
And what's interesting to read in this new report is that lessons were definitely learned from The Panama Papers, but perhaps not necessarily the
right lessons, because many of these individuals and those who are aiding them including lawyers, just doubled down in making it that much more
difficult to follow the money, for lack of a better phrase.
RYLE: Yes, it's probably worth pointing out that The Panama Papers was based on just one offshore service provider in Panama, which is what led to
the names. Here, we're looking at 14 different service providers in multiple jurisdictions around the world.
And what we're seeing here is, after The Panama Papers, they just got more sophisticated about how they hide their assets and how they do business.
And we're seeing some sort of hilarious conversations about how they don't want another Panama Papers to happen. And yet here we have The Pandora
Papers, which is, as I say, same much bigger.
GOLODRYGA: So this is all salacious. And we're going to get into some of the specifics in a moment.
But can you explain why, in your opinion, this is not only harmful to the world, but it's something that viewers should be aware of?
RYLE: Well, I guess the most important thing for the average person is that you cannot do this. If you're an ordinary person, you're not going to
have the resources or the sophistication to be able to do this.
And yet these powerful people, who -- one of the -- probably the most important things that has come out of it is this hypocrisy of these people.
They have been saying for years that this is something that shouldn't be happening.
And our reporting reports their words at the time, and now what we're seeing in the documents. So I guess the most important thing here is the
hypocrisy of our leaders.
GOLODRYGA: A familiar name resurfaces from The Panama Papers, and that is Russian President Vladimir Putin, though he doesn't weigh as heavily and
his associates aren't as heavily seen throughout these files and reporting.
He does come up, and he's not named directly, but it's via associates. This time, the paper alleges that he spent millions of dollars on an apartment
in Monaco purchased through an offshore company allegedly for a woman who he had previously had a relationship with.
There had been reports that he fathered a child with this woman. The Kremlin, of course, is denying the affair, in and of itself, and last year
responded to it saying: "There is nothing special about it. There's nothing here that deserves any comment."
Can you tell us more about the findings related specifically to Vladimir Putin and this apartment?
RYLE: Well, it was reported about a year ago that Vladimir Putin had had a an affair with a woman many years ago and had a child with this one. And
the child is now 18 years old. We were surprised to find in the documents that this woman whose previous role was as a cleaner and had no visible
means of wealth is now the owner of a multimillion-dollar apartment in Monaco.
It was probably one of the more salacious things that we found. But we also found lots of people around Vladimir Putin, again, in the documents. Again,
you might think this is no surprise, but it is more evidence that, if you're in the inner circle of Vladimir Putin, you are becoming very
GOLODRYGA: Yes, I believe was it a cellist or another instrumentalist who was allegedly worth $2 billion, if not more, through the work that you
found with The Panama Papers?
And I can't imagine any musician who is worth that much money, especially one who is not known.
But let's read the response from the Kremlin once again to these allegations. The Kremlin says: "For now, it is not just clear what this
information is and what it is about. If there are serious publications that are based on something concrete and refer to something specific, then we
will read them with interest. Honestly speaking, we didn't see any hidden wealth of Putin's inner circle in there."
No surprise to be seeing this kind of response out of the Kremlin, yet they do seem to be doubling down on trying to eliminate any sense of
investigation and investigative journalists and outlets in Russia, because this was done, I know, with the work of an investigative outlet named
They have now been deemed an undesirable organization, making it that much more difficult for them to function inside of Russia. And it's clear that
these kinds of investigations happen through independent investigative reporters, like those that work at Proekt.
Talk about the work that you have done with your colleagues around the world as journalists and concern that they may now face increased pressure
to close up shop because of these types of reports.
RYLE: Well, in the lead-up to this investigation, a number of the reporters from Russia had to leave Russia for their own safety.
And, in fact, some of them were deemed as undesirables inside Russia. They're basically being banned as foreign agents. We also heard today that
they're now considering ICIJ to be a banned foreign agent inside Russia. I'm not sure if that's true, but, again, it gives you the idea of the kind
of pressure of the journalists are under.
We were working with more than 140, 150 media partners on this project in the weeks leading up to publication. Five of those media organizations
pulled out of the project because of the pressure they were under.
A number of reporters were preparing to leave their countries. And most of them -- I mean, some of them were basically just too afraid to have their
names appear on the stories. We had to then hastily make arrangements to have the stories published elsewhere.
The biggest fear we have, I guess, in the Western world is -- really have lawyers and making sure that our stories are correct. But, in some
countries your life would be in danger for doing something like this. And we're very aware of that.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, dangerous for so many reporters and journalists around the world.
King Abdullah's name comes up in this report as well. We alluded to some of the allegations about his spending and the properties that he's alleged to
have purchased for over $100 million throughout the world, in the United Kingdom, in California, here in the United States, some 14 homes worth more
than $106 million.
This comes at a time when his leadership in Jordan has been weakened, and there was just an attempted coup six months ago. How is this expected to
impact how he's seen at home?
RYLE: Importantly, again, here's another leader who has been saying that everything -- that this kind of thing should be out in the open, there
should be no secrets.
And, in fact, he's -- after the Arab Spring, when people were marching in the street, people saying that we're hungry, that we're poor, what we're
seeing here is that he then started accumulating properties, using offshore companies in multiple parts of the world, including here in the U.S., in
Georgetown, Malibu -- it's three properties in Malibu -- and in London, and very expensive parts of London.
But, again, it was somebody who was saying that the use of offshore is something that shouldn't be happening. Interestingly, again, in the days
leading up to the publication, we were banned from Jordan, and the local outfit we're working with there had to stop working.
These stories are not being seen by the people of Jordan. They're only being seen by other countries and media outlets that are being broadcast
into Jordan. But, right now, the Secret Service has basically blocked the story. So, again, if somebody was not afraid, why this kind of reaction?
GOLODRYGA: Right. And they went to great lengths to try to not disclose his name throughout the findings that you were reporting on as well.
And we should note, obviously, that it's a drop in the bucket compared to, say, what MBS spends on properties or other luxury goods. But this is a
very poor country that I believe is the second, if not third largest recipient of aid from the United States. And, thus, this does stand out,
especially, as you said, that he has been somebody who's been promoting transparency.
Let's talk about something that you reveal here in the United States, and that is South Dakota really being used as a popular tax haven. You think of
the Cayman Islands. You think of Switzerland, not necessarily South Dakota. What is happening there?
RYLE: Well, we're seeing, this is the first time that we're seeing the U.S. as a tax haven. People have been talking about (AUDIO GAP).
Transparency campaigners have been saying that the U.S. has become the biggest tax haven in the world.
Here is the first evidence that we have ever seen. We're seeing companies being set up, trusts being set up, particularly in South Dakota. We found,
in fact, about 30 people who've been prosecuted for misconduct around the world, and, in some cases, politicians who have been accused of operating
in cartels and other things, are actually using South Dakota to hide their money.
And this is the use of trusts in South Dakota, lots of money, millions of dollars. And, again, we were co-reporting this with "The Washington Post."
We have just published a story on it. And I think it's going to have reverberations here in the United States.
GOLODRYGA: What was interesting to me is that, in your reporting, the top four or five richest Americans were not found to be participating in these
types of tax shelters, at least in this report, which stood out as well.
Thank you so much, Gerard, for this really important reporting. We appreciate it.
RYLE: Thanks for the opportunity to talk. Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, now more blockbuster disclosures, this time from inside Facebook, where a former project manager named Frances Haugen accuses the
company of using its platforms to spread hate and misinformation.
Haugen released tens of thousands of pages of corporate documents to back up her claims. Here's how she laid out her case against the company on "60
Minutes" last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAUGEN: The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was, there were conflicts of interests between what was good for the public and what was
good for Facebook. And Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Haugen testifies before the Senate tomorrow at a hearing titled Protecting Kids Online.
Meanwhile, Facebook denies their platforms encourage bad content. It comes as Facebook reports a number of its apps are currently down.
Well, "New York Times" correspondent Sheera Frenkel is co-author of the best selling expose "An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for
And she joins me now live.
Sheera, welcome to the program.
I was thinking about what was going through your mind last night as you were watching that "60 Minutes" interview. Obviously, this book alludes to
a lot of the same allegations that she makes. Did anything stand out to you, however, from what you heard?
SHEERA FRENKEL, CO-AUTHOR, "AN UGLY TRUTH: INSIDE FACEBOOK'S BATTLE FOR DOMINATION": Absolutely.
I mean, this whistle-blower is incredibly well-spoken and versed in Facebook's algorithms, which I think are difficult for people to understand
just how crucial a role they play in promoting hate speech and misinformation.
She did the equivalent of coming with the receipts of many of the sort of themes that we had in our book, which is that Facebook constantly makes
decisions which promote its business and keep people focused on Facebook and online on Facebook as much as possible, rather than reducing the hate
speech and misinformation that we currently have in our media ecosystem.
GOLODRYGA: It's becoming much harder to sort of break down where things stand, because, on the one hand, you have Facebook saying that they're
doing everything in their power to take down hate speech, while, as you and your co-author have pointed out, we don't really know the denominator.
So we don't know, out of how many posts have they actually been taking hate speech down? Now, though, it does seem especially with news of this
algorithm, that they may have, in fact, wanted to promote some of it, if for no other reason than to keep viewers' attention the app.
FRENKEL: Well, I think one of those damning sort of documents that she released, she revealed in these Facebook files was that Facebook executives
are constantly given research which shows that they can be tweaking the algorithm to de-emphasize or they call it downrank hate speech and
And they're often given, let's say, five or six options of ways to downrank it. And they're told, look, if you take the most extreme option, we will
effectively really reduce hate speech and misinformation on the platform, but we're also going to reduce engagement. We're going to reduce the amount
of time people spend on Facebook.
And executives regularly, time and time again, make the call not to take that most extreme option, to take often a middle-of-the-road option,
because they don't want to sacrifice people's attention. They don't want to sacrifice the amount of time that people spend on Facebook, and, therefore,
the amount of money that they make as a company.
GOLODRYGA: Which is why Haugen accused them of putting profits over user safety.
She talks about the January 6 insurrection as it relates to this civic integrity unit that was set up leading up to the 2020 election that she
outlines did a number of correct things to tone down the rhetoric and avoid sort of more uproar leading up to the election.
But then, just as quickly as they put that unit up, they took it down right after the election. And, of course, we know what transpired just a few
months later. Why, in your opinion, given all the work that you have done researching for this book, would they have taken that down so quickly?
FRENKEL: Well, I mean, it goes to what we said in -- just moments ago, which is that it wasn't really good for their business.
When they made some of those changes around the November 2020 elections, they saw that people were less interested in spending time on Facebook.
Engagement was down. And so even though they knew it was creating a healthy environment around the time of the elections, people were seeing more
accurate news, they were seeing late less hate speech and misinformation the platform, they decided to dial back those changes.
And I think she brings internal documents which show these levers, essentially. And they show that, just after the election, Facebook dials
back some of these tools, and then we all know what happened on January 6, right, which is that a group of people created Facebook groups and pages.
They stoked this idea that the election had been stolen from Donald Trump. The Stop the Steal movement, really, a fire was set under those people
through those Facebook groups. And they ended up converging in Washington, D.C., on January 6.
GOLODRYGA: I want to play for you sound from Facebook's V.P. of global affairs, Nick Clegg, who was on with Brian Stelter this weekend in response
to these allegations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICK CLEGG, VICE PRESIDENT OF POLICY AND GLOBAL AFFAIRS, FACEBOOK: The people who pay our lunch are advertisers.
Advertisers don't want their content next to hateful, extreme or unpleasant content. We have absolutely no commercial incentive, no moral incentive, no
company-wide incentive to do anything other than try and give the maximum number of people as much of a positive experience as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: What do you make of that response?
FRENKEL: I think there are some advertisers that make those kinds of calls, that say they don't want their ads next to certain things.
But the truth is that advertisers don't really -- that's not how advertising works on Facebook. And I think Nick Clegg knows that.
The way advertisement works on Facebook is that advertisers say to Facebook, we want you to put our ads in front of this type of individual, a
30-something who is likely to buy a car in the next six months of their lives, or a 40-year-old who is getting ready to think about retirement and
maybe a vacation in Hawaii.
I just think Facebook works very differently than what he's describing. And so it doesn't make sense, it doesn't follow that advertisers would say that
kind of thing. What advertisers care about is that people spend time on Facebook, and that their ads are shown to as many people as possible for as
many hours of the day as possible.
GOLODRYGA: Sheera, a few years ago, I think the most damning allegation about Facebook was that it was revealing users' information, right,
unbeknownst to them, to advertisers.
Arguably, what's even more damning is the allegations that their own research has alluded to over the past few months. And that is that one in
three girls using Instagram, which is an app that's also owned by Facebook, has felt either wanting to harm themselves, thoughts about suicide, has had
a negative impact on their lives.
And this is something that Haugen says impacts Facebook and Instagram users specifically more than any other social media platform. Do you expect any
change from the company? I know they have delayed Instagram for kids now because of this, but, longer term, do you expect change out of this now?
FRENKEL: I mean, I think we all hope for change. But I think it's difficult, because Facebook's business model is predicated on getting as
many people to use it as possible.
And they know that the most important market for them is teens. If they capture teenagers, if they capture people in that crucial 13-to-18-year-old
range, they're likely to have lifelong customers. And they're likely to have people, teens, that spend as many hours of the day as possible on
their phones, on their apps.
I think anyone with a teenager who has a teenager in their life has seen that teens spending hours a day on their phone. And so Facebook really,
really wants that market. And I don't see how they can hope to thrive as a business in the way they have been, and yet -- and not go after teams.
And so I think they need to make a decision. I mean, I think any company of this size needs to make a decision. They can say, right, well, all we care
about is our bottom line and making our stockholders happy and continuing to grow. And, therefore, we will continue to target 13-to-18-year-olds.
Or they can say, actually, we think our businesses large enough, our market is big enough, we're not going to focus on this market. Our core product is
going to be focused on 18 and up or 20- and 30-year-olds. And that's a business calculus that they're going to have to make.
GOLODRYGA: Well, that leads me to my next question. And that comes from a report in "The New York Times," from your colleague, actually, today, Kevin
Roose, who spends time talking about how much attention this company gets for being such a behemoth, right, a country in and of itself with -- worth
over $1 trillion, nearly three billion users worldwide.
But he takes a contrarian view. And here's what he says: "What I'm talking about," in that he believes Facebook is, in a sense, dying -- "What I'm
talking about is a kind of slow, steady decline that anyone who has ever seen a dying company up close can recognize. It's a cloud of existential
dread that hangs over an organization whose best days are behind it."
Do you agree with that assessment, given that we know some of the problems that Facebook has been dealing with, and that is an aging demographic, just
like many countries?
FRENKEL: I will say that Kevin is an incredibly smart and prescient colleague, and I have often seen him his columns to be ahead of their times
in terms of what they what they predict.
And, yes, I mean, I think Kevin has a great point that he's making, which is that, if Facebook was thriving as a business, if they were seeing
incredible engagement among 20- and 30-year-olds, then they wouldn't need to go after this youth market, they wouldn't need to target them.
And if it was creating a really healthy and positive place for teens to naturally gravitate towards, then they wouldn't need to aggressively market
to that to that subset. They wouldn't need to be spending the kind of money they are, and using the kind of mechanisms they're using to try and target
And so I think he makes a great point. When a company constantly tweets its algorithms with -- I think all of us have had this experience on Facebook
of seeing something really inflammatory, really emotive, and it's gotten us riled up.
We're seeing that on purpose. Facebook has made a decision for us to see that. When a company is making those decisions to keep you online, due to
your -- well, really your basest instincts, you have to wonder, how healthy is that company?
Well, Facebook will be front and center once again in Washington during that testimony tomorrow.
Sheera, I recommend anybody that wants to delve more into this subject, read your book. It's a fantastic read.
Thank you so much for joining us.
FRENKEL: Thank you. Thank you so much.
GOLODRYGA: Well, speaking of books, a new novel is creating the kind of buzz in the literary world rarely seen in the age of the Internet.
The book is called "Crossroads," and it's the latest in a series of must- read titles from the esteemed author Jonathan Franzen. Set in 1971, "Crossroads" tells the story of the Hildebrandts, father, mother and four
children, as they wrestle with morality, faith and family bonds.
And Jonathan Franzen joins us now.
Welcome to the program, Jonathan. Congratulations on another well-received book.
I just want to say "The Guardian" is calling it the grandest-sounding novel of 2021.
JONATHAN FRANZEN, AUTHOR, "CROSSROADS": Well, that's nice of "The Guardian."
And thanks for having me on, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: You told "The New York Times" two years ago that you thought that this would be your last book because you don't think that -- you don't
know if anyone really has more than six fully realized novels in them.
Here you are with your sixth book, and it's the first of a trilogy. Why are you doing this to yourself?
FRANZEN: Well, I'm too young to retire.
And the -- every time I write a book, I put everything I have got into it. And I feel so spent afterwards that it is literally unimaginable that I
could find enough to write about to make even one more book. And "The Times" has happened to catch me at a moment like that.
Obviously, I had one more book. And it's good, as you get into your 60s, as I now am, to have a challenge, and I have set myself a challenge.
GOLODRYGA: Look, I challenge myself to run an extra mile, and not to write a trilogy, so good for you.
Well, let's talk about the title, and it is called "A Key to All Mythologies." Can you give us the background of that?
FRANZEN: Well, that is a title in George Eliot's novel "Middlemarch."
And it refers to a grand project by a character named Casaubon that is never realized because he dies. And it's a silly project to begin with. And
by slapping that title on a projected trilogy, I was kind of having a joke at my expense.
GOLODRYGA: Well, "Crossroads" is set in the early 70s, as we mentioned, and it focuses on the Hildebrandt family as the Vietnam War is drawing
down, And the younger generation really breaking free.
This is also a generation that you grew up in. Why did you want to focus on this area?
FRANZEN: Well, I'd never written about the '70s in my fiction barely written about it period. It's the most important decade of my life. It was
the decade that formed who I am as a person.
And this was initially supposed to just be a section of a book, but I found I had such a density of memory for what people looked like, how they
sounded, what the feel of the times was, that I just wanted to keep writing there.
And so I expanded the project into a full book, simply because I was enjoying writing the pages. And when the pages are coming in, and they feel
alive, you have to listen to that. It's also part of a larger project in which I'm trying to span 50 years of the history of a family and,
incidentally, a history of a country.
And I reached as far back as I could, and still be in a time I remembered and could write about without research, which I hate.
GOLODRYGA: Well, one of the things we love to do on this show, given that these interviews are a bit longer than usual, which is always a luxury, is
to have the authors read a passage from the book.
So I believe that you are prepared to do that for us.
FRANZEN: I have a book flapped and ready to go.
FRANZEN: This is the first paragraph of the book.
"The sky broken by the bare oaks and elms of New Prospect was full of moist promise, a pair of frontal systems greyly colluding to deliver a white
Christmas, when Russ Hildebrandt made his morning rounds among the homes of bedridden and senile parishioners in his Plymouth Fury wagon.
"A certain person, Mrs. Frances Cottrell, a member of the church, had volunteered to help him bring toys and canned goods to the Community of God
that afternoon, and though he knew that only as her pastor did he have a right to rejoice in her act of free will, he couldn't have asked for a
better Christmas present than four hours alone with her."
GOLODRYGA: So, this starts with Russ, the pastor, the head of the family, which leads to the question of, why begin the novel there and what role, if
any, did religion and your history with religion growing up or currently in your life play to that?
FRANZEN: I -- religion has been part of my life, in spite of the fact that I have never been a believer.
I have kind of shut my eyes and clenched my fists and tried to be a believer. Never worked. And yet I went to church for 12 years. I was a
member of the church I grew up in. My parents, also nonbelievers, thought that the church was an important part of being a civilized person.
And for my mother, it was also a social thing. And for me, it became a social thing because I got involved in the youth fellowship of that church
and I was in it for six years and it was my primary social network during that time, it kind of saved my life in a way.
And if you spend that kind of time immersed in some fashion in religion, it leaves its traces. And primarily, for me, it leaves its traces through the
texts. If you are reading the bible, not in a literal sense, it was super metaphorical in my upbringing both from the pastor and also youth
fellowship, those texts get in your head the same way, for example, the "Narnia" books, which by the way, are also kind of Christian books, just
they become foundational myths, even if you don't -- if you're not able to supply the requisite belief in them.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. Listen. Growing up, you know, not going to temple very often as a Jew, just listening to my children as they're going through
Hebrew school now online, and reading passages from the Old Testament, I guess, I can relate to that as well because you think about these things
differently as you become older and, in my case, as a parent.
And speaking of families, you're often described as a family novelist, but I take it you don't like being referred to that way. Why?
FRANZEN: Well, I don't mind it now because I've written a family novel.
GOLODRYGA: So, now, we can call you a family novelist?
FRANZEN: Yes, you sure can. No, I'm comfortable with the term. But yes, I thought in spite of there having been families at the center of the
previous novels, I wasn't so concerned with investigating how a family works, and I didn't have room in the space of a single novel to trace a
family overtime, to see the kids when they really grow up and then, to see the kids of those kids, and it was just a project that having been called a
family novelist for 20 plus years, I thought, well, maybe it's time for me to be a family novelist, finally.
GOLODRYGA: And yet, you said in a recent interview with David Remnick that you're a novelist of character and psychology not of the avant-garde. So,
you're more comfortable in that, and that seems to be where you now identify yourself. I don't know that you outright identify yourself with
avant-garde, but obviously, coming toward and saying, here's what I do feel comfortable writing about and here's who I am as a writer that stood out to
me in that interview.
FRANZEN: Yes. I mean, when I was coming up, there was a lot of focus on the post-war, post-modern white male American writers who were trying to
take on the systems. They were taking on the messed-up system of American capitalism, they were confronting the paradoxes of nuclear war, the
absurdities that have been revealed by the unbelievably terrible Second World War. That was their primary focus and the characters kind of came
second. And I started in that vein because I was young and thought I could change the world with a powerful enough social novel.
It has been a more gradual realization over the past 25 years that my real strength was always character and my real focus of interest was always a
combination of psychology and moral struggle, moral ambiguity, the problem of being a good person, the impossibility of being a good person and the
fundamental of well, what is good?
And it has a political valance because, interestingly, in just in the last few years with Black Lives Matter and a general raising of consciousness
of, say, white privilege, a lot of the assumptions you always have which is that I'm fundamentally a good guy and America is fundamentally a good
country, those are precisely the kind of assumptions that fiction is designed to interrogate.
And so, yes, that combination of psychology and I guess, maybe moral psychology is what makes novels vital for me.
GOLODRYGA: So, do that make you lead to the conclusion that at least over the past few years, given everything that was transpiring in the United
States, you were a bit uncomfortable or confused about writing about the present time?
FRANZEN: You know, I think it's been a time of healthy questioning. And that's just -- that's simply good because, again, as I say, that's the kind
of questioning you're supposed to do as a novel writer and also, as a novel reader. Literature is never trafficked in pure good guys and pure villains.
It's always been that muddle. And I think anything that creates that kind of questioning, whether on the page or in real life is just a -- it's a
GOLODRYGA: So, on the subject of healthy questioning, I hope that you would assume that this is a healthy question, why do you think you are so
controversial? I mean, I just had to dig a bit deeper in the research here to find that there are people who really want to dislike you but love your
There's actually a podcast focused on you called "Mr. Difficult." And there are two episodes so far and the hosts say, I genuinely love a great deal of
his books. I miss him when he's not around.
FRANZEN: Yes, I don't know. I think quite a bit of it comes from a decision I made 25 years ago to separate my opinions and put them in essays
and focus more purely novelistic things of my novels and that has resulted in my expressing a lot of opinions in my essays and some of those opinions,
my criticisms, my early criticisms of social media, obviously, they didn't go over well among debatis (ph) of social media.
More recently asking some questions about the assumptions of the climate change activist establishment. You're not going to win any friends there,
and my feeling has been, if I can't ask those questions, then who can? It's actually -- it grows out of a sense of privilege and with that privilege
GOLODRYGA: Is that why you've stayed off of social media?
FRANZEN: Many reasons to stay off social media and we seem to get more and more as your last segment.
GOLODRYGA: Right. I didn't think there would be a connection between the two, but there clearly is.
FRANZEN: Ever growing reasons to stay off of social media and not support that.
GOLODRYGA: So, what can we expect next after this first book? Which I have to say, once again, has received wonderful reviews so far.
FRANZEN: Well, I wrote it, yes, to be part of the projected trilogy, which we'll see if I live long enough to complete or not. But I also want it to
be its own book and to have its own rules. Much of the action takes place on a single day, like 400 pages take place on a single day in 1971. That's
something I'd never done before. It gives the book a kind of particular feel.
The problem for me now is how to make the subsequent volume not feel like further adventures, but to feel itself like its own thing.
GOLODRYGA: Well, if anyone can do it, it's you. We look forward to having you back for the sequel as well.
Jonathan Franzen, thank you so much for joining us, and congratulations.
FRANZEN: Thanks for having me on.
GOLODRYGA: Well, we turn now to an inspiring example of keeping faith in times of crisis. Duke professor, Kate Bowler's relationship with God was
put to the test when she diagnosed with stage IV cancer at the age of 35. Now, the bestselling author out with a new memoir, "Not Cure for Being
Human." In it she grapples with what she calls the absurdity of the self- help industry and finds comfort instead in our limitations. Here she is speaking to our Michel Martin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Kate Bowler, thank you so much for being with us again today.
KATE BOWLER, AUTHOR, "NO CURE FOR BEING HUMAN": I love being with you. This is such a treat.
MARTIN: You know, one of the things I've learned from reading your books is, you know, how are you is such a complicated question. It's such a
beknown question but it's such a complicated question. But I really want to know, how are you?
BOWLER: Well, yes, I guess I think like the crisis of my cancer, I have been dealing with chronic cancer now for six years. The crisis bit is over
and now, it's the sort of -- I feel like in the smokey the bear thing where I'm not green or red for forest fires, I'm kind of like yellow or orange
sometimes. Right now, I'm a little bit orange, which has been a bit hard.
MARTIN: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. When we last spoke in 2019, you were describing that being in red place, especially because it was such a shock.
I mean, you're 34 years old and, you know, this isn't supposed to happen to you.
MARTIN: And, you know, you're at the beginning of kind of the breakout of your career. You're married. You have a little boy. And, you know, it's
this sort of dealing with the shock of it, at the same time, you're trying to sort of find meaning in it. Where has this latest book taken you on your
BOWLER: Yes. Yes, because I almost stuck the landing there. I mean, I really almost had like a really shiny life there for a second. And then,
there was kind of the bright often beautiful so often terrible clarity of the crisis where, I mean, I was supposed to die that first year. And so,
all of a sudden, it felt like the things I really love were in sharp relief.
And then, thank God, I kept living. But then it was kind of those, OK, but now what? Like, now, what do I do when I have to redefine my life according
to this new chronic uncertainty that I'm experiencing, and I was so afraid of doing it wrong that I immediately just kind of felt the panic of it.
Like, in a way, I kind of knew how to have a crisis but I didn't really know how to live because I'm a historian of self-help and explanations that
people give about, like, you know, how to fix your life and I began to sort of really try to think through the common advice and formulas that I was
given for actually how to move forward.
MARTIN: Your crisis, and it is a crisis of confronting your mortality, kind of bumped up against your work and your work is kind of investigating
our preoccupation with living our best life and you started that as a religious exploration of the prosperity gospel of how there are certain
theologies that suggest that if you have enough faith, you will be abundantly rewarded and -- including in a material sense. Well, I think
this has kind of moved into the secular space now. What do put those two together or what do those two have in common?
BOWLER: Yes. I guess -- because at first, I had for almost 10 years studied the history of the idea that good things happen to good people. And
then I -- you know, I had to confront the limits of those beliefs when -- you know, when my life was the one that exploded, when my life was the one
that fell apart. A new desire to have like more compassion, frankly, about how suffering people are made to feel like we're problems to be solved.
But I guess I started having kind of similar processes right away as I began to really dive into not just the history of the prosperity gospel but
the wider self-help movement, because it turns out that it seems like it's secular but it's not secular at all, that it is a massive multibillion
dollar industry that is also designed to give you formulas for how to fix your life and that they are predicated on these really unhelpful spiritual
beliefs, like that we are invincible and that we're supposed to be able to outwork, outhustle, sometimes out simplify, Marie Kondo style, out yolo our
lives that they're in all of these formulas was this underlying American, frequently religious belief that we should always be able to move on to
good, better, best, even if we're struggling with something that is often debilitating.
MARTIN: Where did that live your best life thing come from? It's just a mantra, but all of a sudden, I feel like I see this everywhere. Like where
did this come from?
BOWLER: The idea of best life now is a phrase used by a televangelist, Joel Osteen, one of the ones I was studying who coined a phrase in 2004 to
describe the belief that God would give you health and wealth and happiness. But it became a kind of shorthand for this wider self-help
industry that our minds are incredibly powerful, spiritual forces that can bring things into reality. That's why, apparently, every peloton class I
take is encouraging you to manifest something.
And that our inner power, our kind of inner divinity is so strong that the only sins we have is that we fail ourselves, a lot of that comes from our
very therapeutic culture in which we end up describing our struggles always as emotional journeys that need to be overcome. The only problem, of
course, is that, you know, having lived through a recent earth plague that we know that we are not just a series of choices.
The idea that we are self-mastering is, she said lovingly, wildly delusional. It just (INAUDIBLE) but it sells well and it's so -- and it
feels empowering at the time in which you're overwhelmed by something and then, handed a set of tools and strategies, that we accept and absorb to
try to fix our lives.
MARTIN: Basically, you feel like we've gotten to a point in this culture where we blame people for being sick and by extension, we blame people for
being poor and we blame people for not having everything they want. We think it's gotten to that?
BOWLER: We do. I think that our focus on positivity really has become a tremendous burden and we imagine a hyper agency, like inflated ability of
what we can do, we vastly exaggerated the powers of our minds. Hey, sometimes we have negative thoughts and it's called honesty. It's called a
realistic description of individual and structural inequity. You know, it's called -- I found that just the cultural scripts around being able to say
honest things, I mean, honest things would have included, if I were to have just been canvassed on the first few years of my illness, I'm terrified
that I'm going to die and leave a two-year-old son whose life will be diminished on me. I mean, like, don't lie to me and tell me that their
lives will be as good if this kid doesn't have a mom.
And hey, it turns out that in this country if you suffer, you're very likely to struggle with debt and potentially go into medical bankruptcy,
and that you will be the thing that happens to everyone you know. And like those kinds of negative sentiments almost impossible to say out loud
because of even my own pressure to feel to be the good patient, to be the grateful recipient of care and frankly, I was just embarrassed to have a
life that felt unsolvable.
MARTIN: You know, it's funny. Your book, this one, just like your previous book, has this kind of lovely, funny kind of go down easy kind of tone. But
the fact is you are saying some hard things. And one of the things that you're saying in this book is that you are -- you've got a doctorate, you
are white and, you know, you are very well educated, you've got an incredible peer group of friends and family, and you still got medical care
that treated you like, I'm sorry, like a diagnosis and not a person.
BOWLER: Yes. I am a densely networked, well-resourced privileged person in my own, in my own university hospital, and I still can't get humane medical
care. I found that to be such an emotional dark lesson about how difficult it is for anybody else who doesn't have the resources that even I have, who
-- that it is -- that when something takes your life to the ground, that it takes a wild amount of community and a tremendous amount of structural
justice to prop any life back up again. And yes, I think that runs counter to this very American story about righteous individuals.
MARTIN: I'm just wondering who you -- how -- just -- I could just take a step back a minute, from your point, how have you seen this whole year and
a half as the whole world has dealt with COVID-19? What has struck you as a person who's been living that challenge in your own way long before?
BOWLER: Cancer really did feel like a dress rehearsal for the kind of, I love the word, the work precarity for this, like that delicate contingent
feeling where we're all hanging by a thread and we're part of this public health, right, the whole idea that everyone else's decisions affect our
own. It's been such a terrible and a perfect metaphor for how very outside- in our lives really are.
And even if people are -- you know, I was so desperate to live my dream and climb that ladder and have the -- you know, have the shine my life that I
thought that someone who works really hard and was not mean to strangers like should be able to expect, and I have really been grateful to feel like
-- I've tried to let some of that hyper individualism go and I see other people embracing it too. The need that -- the knowledge that even when we
get a little bandwidth to kind of live our own dreams, we so often have to put all of that on pause and become caregivers in other people's lives or
the recipients of care.
So, we're all really taking turns being the sick one, being the healthy one. And I don't think I've ever seen that as clearly in a communal way as
in this last year.
MARTIN: Is there anything that was particularly meaningful to you from this period that you want to hold on to and share?
BOWLER: I guess I have this one -- I had this moment when I was driving to the Grand Canyon with my family and I saw this tiny little chapel on the
side of the road. And so, I made us immediately pull over and it was this gorgeous little chapel. You walk in and really isn't actually all that
gorgeous at all. It was just sort of slabs of stone and rough wood and I realize that hundreds of people, when they'd stopped, had graffitied all
the inside and they were all these spectacular honest prayers like, God, will I ever be the same? Or, Helen, can you hear me? Or God, please help my
daughter come home, I miss her so much.
And I think part of the fear of living a life of uncertainty is that almost like the loneliness but also the narcissism of it, like you worry you're
the only one. And looking at all these prayers, like all these people yelling into the void, I felt so -- I just realized, like, we really are no
-- we're not alone in that feeling. In that desperate -- the need that life is going to need a lot of courage, but it's going to also need a lot of
hope. And I see that hope every time we press forward with lives that we can't solve and we can't add up.
So, I think that's the bit that I want to. Like, I won't always feel that bright clarity of the crisis. That is something that I can hold on to, is
that this will always need courage and it will always need hope.
MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask what you're teaching your son about who you love so much about what he should strive for and what the future could
mean? He's seven now. And I mean, you're so grateful to have had, you know, these five years with him that you did not know you would have.
BOWLER: Because it's like that's the part of it, right? It's like, at least, for me, that's always the heart of it is, for me, it's my son and I
know for people it's the feeling of being so desperately in love with the people we're given. And like, I mean, last night, before today, I was so
excited to talk to you, I just -- these moments are really beautiful for me. And so, I just feel so grateful to have gotten the chance to write that
And, you know, I just was standing in my son's room last night just overwhelmed with the weight of how much I've already been given that I
didn't think I'd get, but knowing life is always, it's always uncertain, and like the solution shouldn't be to try to go back to the way I was
before, but when I look at him, that's all I want, is to be indestructible, to be endless, to be bottomless.
You know, and the thing that I have tried, I think, to double down on is like, oh, my dear, we are just going to have these big dumb soft hearts. We
are just going to -- because he'll look at me and he'll say absurdly wise hilarious things like, mom, do you think that people love like us? Like as
if he's just kind of blown away by like -- and because I think the right thing to tell him is that the more we love, the more this hurts. Because
we're doing it right. Is because all of this, the weight of it, means that we have accepted the challenge of knowing that every time we love each
other more, we're desperate that we can't live without each other.
That's how I feel when I look at him. The rest of the day I'm like medium indestructible. You know what I mean? But like that, to me, is the bottom
line is that we are given people who we can't live without. And it is -- and I shouldn't ever imagine life is not something that I can get through
without it hurting that good. You know?
MARTIN: Kate Bowler, thank you for your latest book, "No Cure for Being Human." And I can't wait to talk to you again.
BOWLER: This was a joy. Thank you. It's perfection.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Wow. Extremely powerful story there about adversity and the importance of love. Even when it hurts.
And finally, we know why our bodies respond to senses like pain and touch. But until now, the how has been a scientific question mark. Well, this
year's Nobel prize in physiology and medicine goes to two scientists who got to the bottom of this mystery. David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian's
discoveries of temperature and touch receptors explain how our bodies convert physical stimulation, electric nerve impulses, a breakthrough
opening new doors for new research into the treatment for multiple disease conditions and shedding a new light on how we make sense of the world. Also
included, a chili pepper.
Well, that is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you so much for watching and good-bye from