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Great House: A Novel Hardcover – October 5, 2010

3.4 out of 5 stars 147 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393079988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393079982
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (147 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas F. Dillingham VINE VOICE on November 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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