Forest Dark (Hardcover)
Nicole Krauss's fiction doesn't come easy. It is often steeped in philosophy with an undercurrent of Jewish history and thought. As she said in a 2011 interview in the Guardian: "I'm so grateful for my inner life; it's almost visceral.... I take real pleasure in thinking." A National Book Award finalist and shortlisted for the Orange Prize, Krauss (The History of Love; Great House) sets Forest Darklargely in Tel Aviv, where her two protagonists are unsettled and transformed from their previous lives in New York City. Jules Epstein is an effervescent scholar in his 60s who methodically jettisoned his art collection, Upper West Side trappings and significant wealth to move into a slummy Tel Aviv apartment. From there, he mysteriously disappears, leaving his three children to sort out the details. Sandwiched into the third-person story of Epstein, first-person chapters tell of an unnamed mid-40s woman whose marriage is broken and new novel is stuck in neutral. She holes up in Tel Aviv's hulking seaside Hilton hotel and tries to bring her book back to life. A local scholar tracks her down to involve her in a project, filming a Kafka play and mining a surprising cache of Kafka's unpublished papers.
Neither Epstein nor the novelist meet, but both are on quests to understand their places in the contrasting worlds of New York and Israel, and in their Jewish families and history. The decisive Epstein, always quick to engage in debate, has fallen under the spell of a rabbinical radical such that "the twenty-four hours he'd once filled with everything under the sun was replaced by a scale of thousands of years." He is alone, with grown children and dead parents, and sees that "it was becoming harder to ignore the slow drain of interest in the things that once captivated him, he had become aware of a sense of waiting." Similarly, the novelist walks the streets of Tel Aviv in search of some order to her thoughts and life. She knows that this is at the heart of fiction--that "Chaos is the one truth that narrative must always betray... the portion of truth that has to do with incoherence and disorder must be obscured." Having left her husband and two young sons in New York, she has only her sister living in Tel Aviv and her writing to bring some comfort. The Kafka proposal is flattering, but she tells the scholar: "I have a hard enough time with my own books. My life is already complicated. I'm not looking to contribute to Jewish history."
Less interested in the dramatic, Krauss focuses on how her two protagonists intellectually and emotionally handle their respective pilgrimages. Along the way, Forest Dark dips into Freud, Descartes, Kafka and the Torah. There is little that is didactic or discursive in her prose. If, as the Dante source of her title suggests, her protagonists have found themselves "in a forest dark,/ For the straightforward pathway had been lost," they acknowledge their fates and seek a rewarding alternative path. Krauss grapples with the questions more than the answers, and it is in this struggle that Forest Dark shines.
Bruce Jacobs's review first appeared in Shelf Awareness.— Bruce Jacobs
October 2017 Indie Next List
“No surprise: Forest Dark was worth the wait. Tapping into intellectual and deeply personal moments, the two main characters are ones to identify with even as the circumstances they find themselves in are fantastic. Krauss' reflections about marriage are poignant, and there is a lot to contemplate. At first, I enjoyed having moments when I wasn't reading to think, but toward the end I found myself not being able to put it down.”
— Kira Wizner, Merritt Books, Millbrook, NY
A New York Times Notable Book of 2017
Named Best Book of 2017 by Esquire, Times Literary Supplement, Elle Magazine, LitHub, Publishers Weekly, Financial Times, Guardian, Refinery29, Popsugar, and Globe and Mail
"A brilliant novel. I am full of admiration." --Philip Roth
"One of America's most important novelists" (New York Times), the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of The History of Love, conjures an achingly beautiful and breathtakingly original novel about personal transformation that interweaves the stories of two disparate individuals--an older lawyer and a young novelist--whose transcendental search leads them to the same Israeli desert.
Jules Epstein, a man whose drive, avidity, and outsized personality have, for sixty-eight years, been a force to be reckoned with, is undergoing a metamorphosis. In the wake of his parents' deaths, his divorce from his wife of more than thirty years, and his retirement from the New York legal firm where he was a partner, he's felt an irresistible need to give away his possessions, alarming his children and perplexing the executor of his estate. With the last of his wealth, he travels to Israel, with a nebulous plan to do something to honor his parents. In Tel Aviv, he is sidetracked by a charismatic American rabbi planning a reunion for the descendants of King David who insists that Epstein is part of that storied dynastic line. He also meets the rabbi's beautiful daughter who convinces Epstein to become involved in her own project--a film about the life of David being shot in the desert--with life-changing consequences.
But Epstein isn't the only seeker embarking on a metaphysical journey that dissolves his sense of self, place, and history. Leaving her family in Brooklyn, a young, well-known novelist arrives at the Tel Aviv Hilton where she has stayed every year since birth. Troubled by writer's block and a failing marriage, she hopes that the hotel can unlock a dimension of reality--and her own perception of life--that has been closed off to her. But when she meets a retired literature professor who proposes a project she can't turn down, she's drawn into a mystery that alters her life in ways she could never have imagined.
Bursting with life and humor, Forest Dark is a profound, mesmerizing novel of metamorphosis and self-realization--of looking beyond all that is visible towards the infinite.