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Forest Dark: A Novel Hardcover – September 12, 2017
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“Brilliant, inventive and ambitious.” (USA Today) “
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.” (O Magazine)
“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.” (Ruth Franklin, Harper’s Magazine)
“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.” (Peter Orner, New York Times Book Review (cover feature))
“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.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“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.” (Buzzfeed)
“Forest Dark finds Krauss at the top of her game. It is blazingly intelligent, elegantly written, and a remarkable achievement.” (Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven (The Guardian review))
“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.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review and boxed))
“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.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
“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.” (Booklist (starred review))
“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.” (Financial Times)
“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.” (Library Journal (starred review))
“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.” (Douglas Kennedy, New Statesman)
“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.” (Boston Globe)
“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.” (Portland Mercury)
“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.” (Jewish Week)
“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.” (The Economist)
“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.” (BookPage)
“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.” (Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, NPR)
“… Nicole Krauss’ fourth and most interior, introspective, cerebral, and autobiographical novel to date…” (New York Journal of Books)
“Forest Dark is a novel that resists our presumptions of what a novel should do.” (Ron Charles, Washington Post)
“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…” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Forest Dark is a literary achievement…” (Chicago Jewish Review)
“A hybrid work of fiction, memoir and literary criticism…” (Associated Press)
“… a cerebral, dual-stranded tale of disillusionment and spiritual quest…” (Heather McAlpin, NPR)
“Forest Dark is so forceful and gripping that I simply gobbled it up from start to finish.” (Book Browse)
“A brilliant novel. I am full of admiration.” (Philip Roth) “Forest Dark is a feast. Dazzling, beautiful, powerful, bewildering, consumed by things eternal: a romance of metamorphosis, creation, and nostalgia for home.” (Christian Century)
“…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…” (Moment Magazine)
From the Back Cover
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 law firm where he was a partner, he has 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 that is 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 well-known young novelist arrives at the Tel Aviv Hilton, where she has stayed every year since her 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 is 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 transformation and self-realization—of looking beyond all that is visible toward the infinite.
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"Forest Dark" is not a casual read, or the kind of book you can dip in and out of. Instead it's sort of an examination into the nature of what it means to exist and move through the world as the person you are (or the person you aren't). This isn't a book that is based on traditional narrative structure. There's a lot of philosophical "meandering" (both in first and third person) that provides the main structure of the book - instead of a series of actions and exchanges driving the characters' thoughts, it as if the characters' thoughts and choices and motivations are the main characters and everything else is secondary.
Reading this book is almost like snooping on someone recording stream-of-consciousness and noticing what's happening behind them and trying to piece everything together. I kind of enjoyed that, since I'm so used to opening a book and basically having my hand held the entire time by the author. This book did not provide that experience, and I liked the challenge. Definitely not a "cozy" read that you can just tuck in with and lose yourself inside of.
I'll admit that I did find it sort of dense and frustrating at times, but it forced me to slow down while reading and really *think* about some of the ideas that various characters had. For example, when the character of Rabbi Klausner first spoke, I found myself thinking "wait, WHAT did he say?" and re-reading back over the passage and working out the philosophical implications in my head. When I took the time to really think about different things that were addressed in the novel (a lot of ontological stuff), it stayed in my mind even after I had to close the book and move on to another task. So for me, it was food for thought- but I can see how for others, it might seem like a lot of nonsense. It depends on whether or not this is your cup of tea. It reminds me a lot of when we had to explicate poems in college- basically read them over and over, word by word, line by line, until different interpretations became apparent.
All I can say is that this is a strange novel, and a bit of a challenge to someone who is used to dipping in and out of novels whenever time permits (not possible with this book, at least for me), but ultimately very satisfying. "Forest Dark" is another one of those books that makes me realize that reading can be more than just grabbing the latest novel and breezing though it.
It's a small point, but I enjoyed the setting. The one time I worked in Israel, I stayed in the next hotel down the beach from the block-like Tel Aviv Hilton, which plays a significant part in both stories (a connection of a kind, I suppose). I have visited the hill town of Safed (S'fat), cradle of Jewish mysticism. I have at least seen the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert. But even without those personal associations, I would have appreciated Krauss's knack of finding a special place to enclose a special purpose. Her Israel, without ever being touristic, is as real as her New York City, especially in terms of the reality of the minor characters who inhabit each locale.
As with minor characters, so with major ones. When I finished the first chapter, about the disappearance of the billionaire Jules Epstein, I posted a reading-progress note calling this a masterpiece. To be honest, I never experienced quite this high again, but there was nothing to contradict it either; the initial charge remained in place until the end. This chapter is one of the best pieces of character exposition I have ever read. Not just because Krauss so beautifully establishes the facts about Epstein, his former marriage, his family, his fabulous purchases on the art market and subsequent sales, but because she takes us deep into his mind and, more importantly, his soul.
For that is the distinguishing feature of this, more than any of the other three Krauss novels that I have read. All the characters are defined by their spiritual concerns. Of course, these are specifically Jewish concerns, expressed in terms of rabbinic philosophy, and I am not a Jew. But this doesn't matter, for the questions she raises about existence are questions that belong to all of us, whatever our religious or philosophical context. One of Krauss's strengths is that she so often poses her questions through lively anecdotes, like the one told by Israeli rabbi who gate-crashes a dinner held by New York Jewish leaders to open a dialogue with Mahmoud Abbas. Another strength is that she never quite answers them, but leaves the questions to resonate with both the characters and the reader.
The title comes from Dante's Inferno, which in the Longfellow translation begins like this:
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Krauss will have literal forests later on in the novel, but at the beginning they are mostly a metaphor for some of the big questions that she poses: Why are we here and what have we lost? What is our responsibility to life? What is the purpose of religion? Her thinking is not always easy to follow, but it impresses me nonetheless:
Just as religion evolved as a way to contemplate and live
before the unknowable, so now we have converted to the
opposite practice, to which we are no less devoted: the
practice of knowing everything, and believing that knowledge
is concrete, and always arrived at through the faculties of
the intellect. […] The more [Descartes] talks about
following a straight line out of the forest, the more
appealing it sounds to me to get lost in that forest, where
we once lived in wonder, and understood it to be a
prerequisite for an authentic awareness of being and the world.
Krauss avoids the easy answers and tidy endings, as I said, but the novel has an impressive consistency, and the forest darkness does not last for ever. Here is Epstein checking into a run-down studio apartment on the waterfront in Jaffa:
Epstein, new again to everything -- new to the blazing white
light off the waves, to the crying of the muezzin at dawn, new
to the loss of appetite, to the body lightening, to a release
from order, to the departing shore of the rational, new again
to miracles, to poetry -- took an apartment where he would
never have lived in a thousand years, had he been living a
thousand years, which, new again most of all to himself, he
might have been.
Finally, I come to that elephant in the room: the potential dead weight of a self-obsessed writer gazing into her navel instead of just telling a story. Yes, I recognize this, and there were times when my patience wore thin, for example when she has people claim that her novels belong to world Jewish literature rather than the unnamed author herself. But there was also a striking personal honesty here, as she examines her ten-year marriage and its imminent collapse. In these sections, Nicole Krauss is not the sage philosopher cloaking herself in big ideas, but a hurting woman puzzled at how the great love between her and her husband could have turned to cold politeness. The theme of emptiness and separation comes up again and again, and always it is painful -- but she discovers that it is not always negative. As the gate-crashing rabbi tells Epstein:
God created Eve out of Adam's rib. Why? Because first an empty
space needed to be made in Adam to make room for the experience
of another. Did you know that the meaning of Chava -- Eve, in
Hebrew -- is 'experience'?
There is a chapter called "Lech lecha," which are the Hebrew words in which God commands Abram to go to the land of Canaan and become the founder of the Jewish people:
But Lech lecha was never really about moving from the land of his
birth over the river to the unknown land of Canaan. To read it
like that is to miss the point, I think, since what God was
demanding was so much harder, was very nearly impossible: for
Abram to go out of himself so that he might make space for what
God intended him to be.
When one knows that Krauss in fact separated from her husband, Jonathan Safran Foer, shortly before writing this novel, and later began a relationship with an Israeli writer, suddenly all this Biblical exegesis becomes very personal indeed.
Both wind up at the Tel Aviv Hilton, a strangely ugly building built in the brutalist style which sticks out at an odd angle toward the sea.
There are many interesting reflections here about Israel, about American Jews and their response to the state of Israel, about philanthropy, and about Kafka.,Biblical references abound. The author imagines a situation whereby Kafka did not die in Prague but made his way to a kibbutz, living in quiet anonymity. The book itself becomes increasingly Kafkaesque as it goes on, and more and more detached from reality. One keeps thinking the two principles will meet and it will all be tied up in a neat bow -- but that never happens.
It seems the author seems to be concerned with alternative realities, roads not taken, doors not opened in life. Between the pages is a chilling depiction of a marriage that has lost its way from which all love has drained away. Various different paths toward meaning and fulfillment are suggested -- and then not acted upon.
Ultimately I found the book baffling. It seems to suggest big ideas but they float into the air and disappear. It's well written and interesting -- but at the end of the day elusive, perhaps awaiting a smarter reader than me to decipher.