Forest Dark: A Novel (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scholar tracks her down to involve her in a project, filming a Kafka play and mining a surprising cache of Kafka's unpublished papers.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
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.
“Brilliant, inventive and ambitious.”
“She writes insight and revelation better than just about anyone working today…While Krauss’ genius has long been evident, of her four books this one cuts closest to the bone. The woods may be dark but Krauss’ gorgeous sentences light our way through.”
“Strange and beguiling…a mystery that operates on grounds simultaneously literary and existential…metaphysical and emphatically realistic…It’s a perfectly Kafkaesque vision, almost uncanny enough to be sublime.”
“Delving into the metaphysical and the spiritual realms, Krauss presents a stirring...exploration of the ‘unformed and nameless life’ that exists alongside the one we’re consciously living.”
“Lucid and exhilarating...Elias Canetti once wrote of Kafka that he sought, above all, to preserve his freedom to fail. In this spirit, Krauss, an incisive and creative interpreter of Kafka, allows Nicole and Epstein to regain their own freedom to fail. This particular freedom should never be taken lightly. It’s a great gift not only to her characters, but to her readers.”
“A triumphant new novel…that suggests a determination to stretch conventional narrative in unconventional directions…Krauss’ prose balances precision and grace…This author is incapable of writing a sentence that does not seem chiseled to perfection…In Forest Dark, Nicole Krauss has once again mastered a light touch in pursuit of weighty themes.”
“Krauss expertly intertwines musings on theology and the life of Franz Kafka in this beautifully written follow-up to the National Book Award finalist The Great House.”
“Forest Dark finds Krauss at the top of her game. It is blazingly intelligent, elegantly written, and a remarkable achievement.”
“Krauss’s elegant, provocative, and mesmerizing novel is her best yet. Rich in profound insights and emotional resonance...Vivid, intelligent, and often humorous, this novel is a fascinating tour de force.”
“One of the bravest and most original writers of her generation… Forest Dark—the best new novel I’ve read this year…Krauss’ intrepid journey into this forest reveals great secrets, involving the tales we tell as we whistle in the dark.”
“Entrancing and mysterious…Krauss reflects with singing emotion and sagacity on Jewish history; war; the ancient, plundered forests of the Middle East; and the paradoxes of being. A resounding look at the enigmas of the self and the persistence of the past.”
“Magnificent. . . . A richly layered masterpiece; creative, profound, insightful, deeply serious, effortlessly elegant, both human and humane. Krauss is a poet and a philosopher, and this latest work does what only the very best fiction can do—startles, challenges and enlightens the reader, while showing the familiar world anew.”
“Wildly imaginative, darkly humorous and deeply personal, this novel seems to question the very nature of time and space. Krauss commands our attention, and serious readers will applaud.”
“This is as original and impressive a work of fiction as I have encountered in years; a welcome reminder of how a novel can be defiantly and brilliantly novel.”
“The tangled necessity of such double-ness is one of Krauss’ core themes and the key to her characters’ quests: how we are at once shaped and confined by the forms we require for life, be they stories, relationships, or places.”
“Nicole Krauss remains accessible through all of the risks she takes, which might be her greatest feat…Forest Dark expands the possibilities of what the novel is capable of...The novel is a whirlwind, pure and simple. It might not tie up every loose end, but its force is undeniable.”
“A literary adventure in a different kind of storytelling…Krauss’ voice in fiction is still original: She crafts beautiful sentences, challenges form and ideas, creates characters alive to possibility and she’s funny.”
“The feelings Epstein and Nicole have about their lives and loves feel hard-earned and true…The resonances between these characters are often profound. Both are searching for their true selves, an ocean away from the old lives that have tested their faith.”
“Illuminating…[Forest Dark] builds to a powerful emotional crescendo and an ending that feels revelatory. Haunting and reflective, poetic and wise, this is another masterful work from one of America’s best writers.”
“Forest Dark tackles that ultimate question [the meaning of life]…Nicole Krauss takes chances with form…The pleasure of Krauss’ writing…is in the wayward precision of her language that draws us into the desert, ‘the forest dark’ and other contemplative places where illumination occurs.”
“… Nicole Krauss’ fourth and most interior, introspective, cerebral, and autobiographical novel to date…”
“Forest Dark is a novel that resists our presumptions of what a novel should do.”
“Krauss, as ever, writes beautifully about complex themes, and she has a keen eye for the way Israel’s culture, slower but more alert to violence, requires its American characters to reboot their perceptions…”
“A thought-provoking and captivating book.”
“Forest Dark is a literary achievement…”
“A hybrid work of fiction, memoir and literary criticism…”
“In this novel, metamorphosis dances across the pages, with nods to Jewish literary lions and masters of magical realism Sholem Asch, Bruno Schulz, and I. L. Peretz. Here we see Krauss giving shape to the Jewish literary canon of the future…A pulsing intelligence courses through Forest Dark.”
“… a cerebral, dual-stranded tale of disillusionment and spiritual quest…”
“Forest Dark is so forceful and gripping that I simply gobbled it up from start to finish.”
“A brilliant novel. I am full of admiration.”
“Forest Dark is a feast. Dazzling, beautiful, powerful, bewildering, consumed by things eternal: a romance of metamorphosis, creation, and nostalgia for home.”
“…Krauss writes for those who want to co-create a world with her. By the ends of her novels, a reader has ideas about how these characters’ lives intersect…”