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Forest Dark (2017)
by Nicole Krauss
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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 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.
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 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.
It feels likely that if this novel were sent over the transom from a previously unpublished writer it would never have found an agent much less a publisher. The adjectives that came to mind as I read included "turgid," "boring," "overwrought," "portentous," "pointless," and "self-absorbed." Even so I was determined to set all these judgments aside. I tried instead to think of this novel as a kind of found art. What if I had found this manuscript in a trash receptacle in a Greyhound bus station in Topeka, for instance? I would have read it with relish, and I would have marveled at the mind that had created it. As I read I let go of any standard I might have for Nicole Krauss, successful literary author, and to take the text on its own terms. By approaching my reading with this frame of mind, the many awfulnesses of the novel were not only tolerable, but endearing.
The book has great style. sudden bursts of brilliant humor and it paints vivid portraits of the inner life of the main characters.
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.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.6Literature English (North America) American fiction 21st Century
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“…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. ( )