> Skip to content
  • Published: 2 November 2021
  • ISBN: 9781787303348
  • Imprint: Harvill Secker
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • RRP: $29.99

Pure Flame

On Mothers and Daughters

An intellectual and personal reckoning with a very particular unease about what it means to be a woman, a mother, and a daughter.

'Rich and moving' New York Times
'A book that expands and breaks your heart' Adelle Waldman

A revelatory enquiry into selfhood, freedom, mortality, storytelling, and what it means to be a mother's daughter

During one of the texting sessions that became our habit over the period I now think of as both late and early in our relationship, my mother revealed the existence of someone named Janis Jerome.

So begins Michelle Orange's extraordinary inquiry into the meaning of maternal legacy - in her own family and across a century of seismic change. Jerome, she learns, is one of her mother's many alter egos: the name used in a case study, eventually sold to the Harvard Business Review, about her midlife choice to leave her husband and children to pursue career opportunities in a bigger city.

A flashpoint in the lives of both mother and daughter, the decision forms the heart of a broader exploration of the impact of feminism on what Adrienne Rich called 'the great unwritten story': that of the mother-daughter bond.

Through a blend of memoir, social history, and cultural criticism, Pure Flame pursues a chain of personal, intellectual, and collective inheritance, tracing the forces that helped transform the world and what a woman might expect from it.

'A provocative, meditative, funny, feminist adventure about two women trying to tell each other the stories that matter while there's still time' Alexander Chee

'Recasts the notion of maternal legacy' Kiese Laymon

'Powerful and compassionate' Veronica Esposito, Literary Hub

'A brilliant work of feminist critique' Lauren Puckett-Pope, USElle

  • Published: 2 November 2021
  • ISBN: 9781787303348
  • Imprint: Harvill Secker
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • RRP: $29.99

About the author

Michelle Orange

Michelle Orange was born and raised in London, Canada; she now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her writing has been published in Harper's, McSweeney's, The Nation, Bookforum, the Virginia Quarterly Review, the New York Times, Slate, Film Comment, The Village Voice, and other publications.

Her first book, a collection of essays called THIS IS RUNNING FOR YOUR LIFE, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2013, and was named a best book of the year by the New Yorker, the National Post, Flavorwire, and other publications.

She is an assistant professor of writing at Columbia University.

Praise for Pure Flame

Michelle Orange geniusly rewrites and reinvigorates what Adrienne Rich called 'the great unwritten story'. In doing so, she recasts the notion of maternal legacy and fills it with pointed mystery and informed sincerity. Pure Flame is a tutorial in bending creative non-fiction.

Kiese Laymon

The best book I've read this year...unsparing, stylishly written, and profoundly loving, the book is as original as it is powerful. To be with Orange as she reckons with each stage of her mother's life and with her own shifting assessments is to experience a joy that is at once intellectual and moral: this is a book that expands and breaks your heart, not with sentimentality but with its intelligence and compassion.

Adelle Waldman

There's an irresistible question at the center of this book: In her attempt to avoid becoming her mother, did Michelle Orange lose herself, and her mother too?... a provocative, meditative, funny, feminist adventure about two women trying to tell each other the stories that matter while there's still time.

Alexander Chee

Opening Pure Flame is like stepping into a cathedral. Michelle Orange makes elaborate leaps of association and elegant sentences seem effortless to construct, but only a writer as skilled as Orange can make a reader feel like a collaborator, rather than a mere witness to the artistry. Pure Flame is as lyrical and idea-driven as it is propulsive and moving.

Jeannie Vanasco, author of Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl

Sometimes achingly sad, but often warm and evocative, this reckoning between mothers and daughters is a brilliant work of feminist critique.

Lauren Puckett-Pope, US Elle

Rich and moving . . . Orange skirts the traps of the mother-daughter memoir by going beyond personal history. She interleaves memories of her mother and maternal grandmother with discussions of writing by Simone de Beauvoir, Adrienne Rich and Susan Sontag, among others . . . Pure Flame may be Orange's legacy.

Maggie Doherty, New York Times

Powerful . . . [Orange] is bracingly honest as she wrestles with the good and bad of her mother's choices, trying to forge a statement on the relationship that is at once honest, fair, and compassionate.

Veronica Esposito, Literary Hub

Orange embarked on this fiercely intelligent memoir - which doubles as a critique of feminism and maternal failure - to try to come to terms with her mother's decision and their decades-long estrangement.

Emily Donaldson, Globe and Mail

The prismatic effect of Orange's multidimensional approach is brilliant, illuminative, and moving.

Kirkus (starred review)

In gleaming prose of tensile strength, Orange considers the painful paradoxes of women's lives and mother-daughter relationships.


Related titles