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Great House: A Novel Hardcover – October 5, 2010
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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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Top customer reviews
A desk seems to be the only consistent thread, described "...like some sort of grotesque, threatening monster..." its 19 randomly placed and sized drawers standing in for the characters of the story. There is one locked drawer whose contents remains a mystery, and its character a mystical puppeteer who moves the desk from attic to living room to warehouse in route to that character's final purpose.
Don't worry: You will finish Great House. Krauss, like the locked drawer, propels you inescapably along until you discover the secret of the desk. The desk: A metaphor for the Great House, which in turn is a metaphor itself.
That said, Nicole Krauss has written about some of the effects the Holocaust caused in Jewish lives during and after the horror. Tracing the history of an imposing writing desk (that was originally preserved by a survivor), the desk hovers over the internal turmoil of the characters who subsequently come to temporarily own and write at the desk. The narrators have all been affected by the difficult times, and the stories are filtered through their eyes and memories. Some of the stories are unresolved, but that's what chaos leaves behind.
This is a superbly written book with deliciously lengthy paragraphs of gorgeous prose.
The story is intricately interwoven across time and continents, and may be a little difficult at times to follow, but I encourage the discerning reader to persevere and enjoy the journey.
This is a book which will leave the reader wanting more- I know I haven't read a book as beautifully written as this in a long time.
What I Did Like
- Krauss can write; her style and voice are unique and admirable. She has the capabilities to tell a great story; it is obvious despite the book's flaws.
- I liked the idea of the desk, and it's journey. I appreciated the way it was described physically and the possibility of it touching so many lives.
- I liked Nadia and Daniel Varksy's characters, despite wanting to learn more about him.
- It just seems to miss the mark in terms of what Krauss set out to do. It just wasn't strong in terms of plot or character development.
- Some of the part, especially towards the middle, were actually a bit boring at times.
- The whole time I was waiting for something to grab on to; something to pull me in. Nothing showed up.
I know I need to read some of Krauss' other works in order to give her a fair shot, and I'm absolutely willing.