Forest Dark: A Novel

by Nicole Krauss

Hardcover, 2017

Call number




Harper (2017), 304 pages


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.… (more)

Library's review

An interesting meditation, from an American perspective, of Jewish identity, Israel, and literature. "Only now that he was gone was I ready to argue with him, to tell him that literature could never be employed by Zionism, since Zionism is predicated on an end--of the Diaspora, of the past, of the
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Jewish problem--whereas literature resides in the sphere of the endless, and those who write have no hope of an end. A journalist interviewing Eva Hoffe once asked her what she thought Kafka would have made of it all had he been alive. 'Kafka wouldn't have lasted two minutes in this country,' she'd shot back." (Brian)
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User reviews

LibraryThing member charl08
Fascinating and unusual novel telling the stories of a wealthy man having his money away and "Nicole Krauss" suffering writers' block and heading to a hotel in Tel Aviv that she believes will solve the problem. There's not really much of a plot, but lots of reflection upon Israel, being a Jewish
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writer, and what might have happened if Kafka had made it to Israel. This copy was provided by Netgalley.
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LibraryThing member detailmuse
What if life, which appears to take place down countless long hallways, in waiting rooms and foreign cities, on terraces, in hospitals and gardens, rented rooms and crowded trains, in truth occurs in only one place, a single location from which one dreams of those other places?

Hmm “one place”
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... as in our mind? Yes! I love Krauss’s curious intellect and flashes of philosophy, and I settled in to this novel that interweaves the stories of two characters in existential crisis, one in mid-life and the other in late-life. And though I was continually rewarded with beautiful writing and interesting explorations of Jewish history and culture, I grew so mired in lengthy exposition and rumination, much of it in the mind of a character whose exhaustion transferred to me. That the ending presented an interesting ambiguity did energize me a bit, but I’m still shaking off the character’s listlessness.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I think a student of philosophy would get more from this novel than I did. I am left with an odd ambivalence as to whether this is a brilliant novel or just misses. It seems to be a two threaded tale of search for identity and disillusionment. Two characters seek answers to their disillusionment in
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Israel. Did they find resolution? You tell me.
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LibraryThing member schnurmacher
The book has great style. sudden bursts of brilliant humor and it paints vivid portraits of the inner life of the main characters.
LibraryThing member moukayedr
I listened to the audiobook version, and it was well-performed, but I had to go back and listen to some chapters again, the ideas discussed are sometimes very dense.

This is a story about two people Jules Epstein, a retired wealthy lawyer who at a turning point in his life decides to reconnect to
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his roots in Israel. Parallel to this story, and seemingly unrelated to it, is another trip taken by a writer in search for something also in Israel, to counter a slump she experienced in her married and creative lives. Both characters started out in Israel, they were conceived there, and both stay at the Tel Aviv Hilton.

The story meanders into the philosophical and theological realms, when the writer character experienced what we may consider a rip in the fabric of time, and this leads her into many rambling memories and thoughts while telling of her experience in Israel, which involves search for some lost Kafka papers.

The story of search for self, identity and meaning is the main element of the story in addition to some exploration of the Israeli psyche and elements of the story of the Jewish people, as well as discussing some of the holes present in its telling. King David features promptly in this retelling.

The philosophical discussions about creation were also close to my heart and interests in the spiritual. This is a book that invites thinking and questioning more than following the threads of the plot. Many elements of the story are left for the reader to piece together, and the question of whether the characters succeeded in finding something from their trip remains in essence unanswered.

I am impressed by the author and will definitely revisit her other work.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
With very little in the way of a plot, this existential novel is more about “being” than “doing.” It contains two primary characters, each undergoing a transformation. One of the main characters, Nicole, is an author struggling with writer’s block and contemplating divorce. The other,
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Epstein, is suffering from depression and giving away his possessions worth millions. Most of the novel is set in Israel. Judaism is prominently featured, along with Kafka. It contains lots of musings that are beautifully written, but I needed more of a storyline. If the following quotes are appealing, you may enjoy this novel:

“…in a multiverse, the concepts of known and unknown are rendered useless, for everything is equally known and unknown. If there are infinite worlds and infinite sets of laws, then nothing is essential, and we are relieved from straining past the limits of our immediate reality and comprehension, since not only does what lies beyond not apply to us, there is also no hope of gaining anything more than infinitesimally small understanding.”

“Just as religion evolved as a way to contemplate and live before the unknowable, so now have we 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.”

I’ve made all my highlights visible (except one spoiler) to give you more of an idea of what this reading experience is like.
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LibraryThing member Okies
Wow, I listened to a big section of the middle of this book while I was walking on a river trail and somehow the wooded setting fit perfectly with the period in Tel Aviv. I really enjoyed the mood of this book, though I wasn't sure what it was about as I was listening to it. I'm motivated to read
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some lengthy reviews now, to get a bigger picture and some insights that escaped me in the course of my listening. Needless to say, I think the audiobook narrator, Gabra Zackman, did a great job with this. Her pitch that was right, even though it had a kind of stylish tic, on a continuous wheel of soft and more matter-of-fact and hard within every sentence it seemed, it was ideal for the perspective of the book's narrator.
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LibraryThing member mykl-s
After finishing the last sentence from Nicole Krauss' Forest Dark, I needed to decide, should I start reading it again from the beginning to get a better grasp and feel for what it was all about, or should I set it aside?

Each page, each storyline, kept me reading, kept me interested, but I never
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got a feel for the wholeness of it as a novel. It's a very inventive book, experimental, I think. Maybe it was more literary than I was ready for, though literary, as I understand the term, is what I'm often drawn to.

I've read some of her short stories, and liked them, so don't plan to give up on Krauss, may well come back to Forest Dark after mulling over it over for a while..
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LibraryThing member ghneumann
Nicole Krauss' Forest Dark tells two stories, that maybe intersect in the smallest, most casual way at the end but then again maybe don't. Both concern American Jewish people making trips to Israel, but their purposes could not be more different. Jules Epstein is a retired lawyer, who after a
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lifetime of doing the things he was supposed to do (be successful in business, get married and start a family) starts to come apart in the wake of his own parents' death. He divorces his wife, starts to give away his money...and then one day he goes to an event where a charismatic rabbi speaks. He goes to Israel, determined to do something to honor the memory of his mother and father, and encounters the rabbi again. Nicole, on the other hand, is a writer and the mother of two young children. She feels uncertain, of her life choices and marriage, and so decides to return to a favorite familiar place: the Hilton in Tel Aviv, where she spent happy hours as a child, ostensibly to work on her next book.

Both become involved in quests, of sorts. Jules becomes involved a movie that the rabbi, and more specifically, the rabbi's young and attractive daughter, is trying to make about the life of the biblical David. Nicole, for her part, is introduced to a man that wants her to work on a book about the life of Franz Kafka...who he contends didn't die under the circumstances generally accepted, but lived on for several decades in Israel. Both stories take unexpected twists and turns...and only one character returns to the United States.

This book is as much, maybe more, a writing exercise as an actual book. She subverts the expectations we bring in to picking up a novel: she herself is a character in the book, the narratives we expect to join or at least parallel never do, and she refuses to tell a story with any structure in the traditional sense. Instead, we get two stories that, to be perfectly frank, make no real sense and have nothing to do with each other besides the broadest of descriptions. But she's clearly making a point: as people, in the stories we tell to others and and want to have told to us, we create a narrative. There's a set-up, build-up, climax, and denouement. But actual life, as it's being lived? Has precious little of that. We sand away the rough edges, omit details, inflate the importance of events to make it fit into the package we expect it to conform to.

The problem is that this becomes obvious not too far into the book, and then I felt stuck just finishing the book for the sake of finishing it without any actual investment in the people depicted or the events related. Which isn't to say that Krauss isn't a good writer...despite the fact that this book did not do it for me, her actual prose quality is high, and at moments the book seems like it might take off. There's a sub-story about a doorman who loses a painting he was supposed to sell that's told with skill and stuck in my memory even several weeks after I turned the last page. I'd be open to reading other work by Krauss, I've heard good things about her writing, but this book fell flat for me. If you're looking for something to give you material to noodle over about the ultimate chaos of life and the futility of our efforts to impose meaning on it, this might be for you. If not, though, skip it.
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