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Great House: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Nicole Krauss
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in Fiction

Winner of the 2011 ABA Indies Choice Honor Award in Fiction

Winner of the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Award

Shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize in Fiction

A powerful, soaring novel about a stolen desk that contains the secrets, and becomes the obsession, of the lives it passes through.

For twenty-five years, a reclusive American novelist has been writing at the desk she inherited from a young Chilean poet who disappeared at the hands of Pinochet’s secret police; one day a girl claiming to be the poet’s daughter arrives to take it away, sending the writer’s life reeling. Across the ocean, in the leafy suburbs of London, a man caring for his dying wife discovers, among her papers, a lock of hair that unravels a terrible secret. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer slowly reassembles his father’s study, plundered by the Nazis in Budapest in 1944.

Connecting these stories is a desk of many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or have given it away. As the narrators of Great House make their confessions, the desk takes on more and more meaning, and comes finally to stand for all that has been taken from them, and all that binds them to what has disappeared. Great House is a story haunted by questions: What do we pass on to our children and how do they absorb our dreams and losses? How do we respond to disappearance, destruction, and change?

Nicole Krauss has written a soaring, powerful novel about memory struggling to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss. "This is a novel about the long journey of a magnificent desk as it travels through the twentieth century from one owner to the next. It is also a novel about love, exile, the defilements of war, and the restorative power of language."—National Book Award citation

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2010: In each of the short stories that nest like rooms in Nicole Krauss's Great House looms a tremendous desk. It may have belonged to Federico García Lorca, the great poet and dramatist who was one of thousands executed by Fascists in 1936, when the Spanish Civil War began. We know that the desk stood in Weisz's father's study in Budapest on a night in 1944, when the first stone shattered their window. After the war, Weisz hunts furniture looted from Jewish homes by the Nazis. He scours the world for the fragments to reassemble that study's every element, but the desk eludes him, and he and his children live at the edges of its absence. Meanwhile, it spends a few decades in an attic in England, where a woman exhumes the memories she can't speak except through violent stories. She gives the desk to the young Chilean-Jewish poet Daniel Varsky, who takes it to New York and passes it on (before he returns to Chile and disappears under Pinochet) to Nadia, who writes seven novels on it before Varsky's daughter calls to claim it. Crossing decades and continents, the stories of Great House narrate feeling more than fact. Krauss's characters inhabit "a state of perpetual regret and longing for a place we only know existed because we remember a keyhole, a tile, the way the threshold was worn under an open door," and a desk whose multitude of drawers becomes a mausoleum of memory. --Mari Malcolm

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This stunning work showcases Krauss's consistent talent. The novel consists of four stories divided among eight chapters, all touching on themes of loss and recovery, and anchored to a massive writing desk that resurfaces among numerous households, much to the bewilderment and existential tension of those in its orbit, among them a lonely American novelist clinging to the memory of a poet who has mysteriously vanished in Chile, an old man in Israel facing the imminent death of his wife of 51 years, and an esteemed antiques dealer tracking down the things stolen from his father by the Nazis. Much like in Krauss's The History of Love, the sharply etched characters seem at first arbitrarily linked across time and space, but Krauss pulls together the disparate elements, settings, characters, and fragile connective tissue to form a formidable and haunting mosaic of loss and profound sorrow.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 491 KB
  • Print Length: 305 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0393340643
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 6, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0042XA2ZY
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #229,900 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
198 of 216 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "What is a Jew without Jerusalem?" October 5, 2010
An imposing wooden desk with nineteen drawers floats through this book like a buoy, and sometimes with shackles, loosely uniting four disparate but interconnected narrative threads. The desk is largely a monument to Jewish survival, loss, and recovery, and mirrors the dissolution, pain, and dire hope of each character. Additionally, it is a covetous object, given a poignant and existential significance by the chorus of voices that are bound to it by their memories.

"Bend a people around the shape of what they lost, and let everything mirror its absent form."

This elegiac story opens with Nadia, a now divorced and successful writer, who received the desk in 1972 from a Chilean poet, Daniel Varsky. Daniel needed a place to store furniture, and Nadia had an empty house. After a long night that resulted only in a brief kiss, he leaves her his desk, as well as other pieces of furniture, and returns to Chile and the tragic conditions of Pinochet's Junta regime. He never returns. Years later, during a particularly low period of her life, she receives a call from a woman, Leah Weisz, who alleges to be Varsky's daughter, and who has called to claim the desk. In the midst of this narrative, we occasionally break to Nadia confessing to an unknown "Your Honor." Nadia's attachment to the desk is profound and the loss of it signals keen despair.

Leah and her brother have lived a nomadic (yet insular) privileged life with their father, George, a mordant, esteemed antiques dealer who is legendary for his prowess in recovering any loss object. He is obsessed with scrupulously reconstructing his father's study, to make it the way it was before the Gestapo pillaged it during World War II.
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140 of 152 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fancy and fashionable November 15, 2010
Nicole Krauss has offered a now familiar (even overworked) structure for her tale of memory and loss. The opening chapters present several seemingly widely separated characters, and the chapters hopscotch in time, backward, forward, while in each chapter at least one or two connections emerge among these characters. This is a narrative strategy that we have seen repeatedly in novels over the past 40 years or so, more and more frequently in recent years. Multivoiced novels are not new, of course, but the labyrinthine treatment of fictional time is more frequently encountered and may now be a mannerism that could well be set aside unless it is urgently needed.

I do not mean that Krauss made a wrong choice in this case, necessarily; her stories of failed communication, concealment and secrecy, conflicting memories, misinterpretations and confusions, are probably best told in this kind of recursive structure, making the novel something of a puzzle for the reader, who must approach the work as an alert and participatory rather than passive observer. The tricksy structure also may serve to conceal or at least distract from some considerable weaknesses in the novel, including the excessive symbolic weight placed on the central "object"--the mysterious desk--which serves as the red violin or the white whale of the plot. For me, at least, it never succeeds in coalescing the several tales--especially those of the failures of love, the most important in the novel.

My most serious complaint, however, is with Krauss's prose style. She writes poetically and many passages are truly rich in both imagery and emotional power--especially when her characters suffer the revelatory experiences that force them to self-recognition.
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113 of 124 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If I forget thee . . . October 14, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Let me say it out front: Nicole Krauss is a major writer at the height of her powers and her latest novel is a towering achievement. Her subject is loss, and a process of reconstruction that is always painful and inevitably only partial. Loss, of course, is a central theme for many Jewish writers of her generation, but Krauss has dealt with it with greater consistency than most. Her first novel, MAN WALKS INTO A ROOM, treated the subject obliquely, through a protagonist who loses all his adult memories as the result of brain tumor and must find ways of constructing a new life in his spiritual exile. Although her second, THE HISTORY OF LOVE, has something of the quality of fable, it tackles the subject more directly, by bringing together the stories of a Jewish boy writing in Poland before the Holocaust and a teenage girl in New York in the present day. In it, Krauss introduced the idea of using two or more separate stories that come together only at the end, not necessarily in the ways one might expect; here, she takes the approach a great deal farther. For fragmentation is a tragic reality of the Jewish experience, and with this novel Nicole Krauss makes diaspora into a literary technique.

With GREAT HOUSE, Krauss leaves behind the almost childlike quality of her previous novel and takes possession of her maturity like a mansion.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Finding words
Sometimes you read a book you want to live in. Great House is such a book for me. You want to see and describe the world as the writer does. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Miriam
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
this is a beautifully written book. the words are gorgeous.
Published 2 months ago by barbara steiner
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very interesting
Published 3 months ago by Jiri Lhotak
1.0 out of 5 stars Drivel
Mediocre drivel. The History of Love was fantastic, but this is crap. This novel is glaringly contemporary, and not in a good way. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Julian Sojo
3.0 out of 5 stars I really loved the author's book The History of Love
I really loved the author's book The History of Love, so I was really looking forward to this one. It has some good parts, but it also has some very boring parts. Read more
Published 5 months ago by abc
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent novel!
Excellent novel! Though it took me some time to unravel all the interconnected story lines, it was very satisfying and intelligent read -graceful, thoughtful and profoundly... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Reader from Texas
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT HOUSE is a GREAT read ...
This is not an easy book to get into, but the finishing moments make effort worthwhile. I recommend starting with a timeline and adding to it as the chapters develop. Read more
Published 8 months ago by RRL
4.0 out of 5 stars Very nice writing. Almost moved into character's sensibility from her...
Very nice writing. Almost moved into character's sensibility from her previous novel, but not quite. This was adept. I'll look for the next one.
Published 8 months ago by true
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing story woven together out of many lives ...
Haunting, luring, amazing story woven together out of many lives that are linked by various degrees through generations, time and a writer's desk.... Read more
Published 10 months ago by J. Catherine Triolo
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Everything she writes turns to gold. Buy every book, make some good coffee grab a doughnut and settle in on the sofa or the bed. Read more
Published 11 months ago by KatieSparkle
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More About the Author

Nicole Krauss is the author of "Man Walks into a Room," "Great House," and the international bestseller "The History of Love." Her books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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