Pure Flame

Pure Flame

On Mothers and Daughters


'Rich and moving' New York Times

'A book that expands and breaks your heart' Adelle Waldman
, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

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.


  • The best book I've read this year...unsparing, stylishly written, and profoundly loving, the book is as original as it is powerful... a book that expands and breaks your heart, not with sentimentality but with its intelligence and compassion.
    Adelle Waldman

About the author

Michelle Orange

Michelle Orange is the acclaimed author of This Is Running for Your Life: Essays, which was named a best book of the year by The New Yorker. Her writing has appeared in various publications, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Bookforum, McSweeney's, and The Virginia Quarterly Review, which awarded her the 2019 Staige D. Blackford Prize for non-fiction. She teaches in the writing programmes at Goucher College and Columbia University, and divides her time between Brooklyn and Baltimore.
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