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Great House (2010)

by Nicole Krauss

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1,9611258,252 (3.48)1 / 305
Connected solely by a desk of enormous dimension and many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away, three people--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--struggle to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss.… (more)

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 Orange January/July: Great House by Nicole Krauss22 unread / 22rainpebble, February 2013

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English (116)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (2)  Catalan (1)  Danish (1)  German (1)  All languages (124)
Showing 1-5 of 116 (next | show all)
A powerful novel of love and loss and the reverberating effects of historical atrocities on our children, Great House by Nicole Krauss (Norton, $24.95) is a testimony to the relentless grip of memory on our present, a series of interconnected stories rendered with poise and striking clarity.

As she proved in her previous novel, the international bestseller The History of Love, Krauss is an astute and compassionate author. She cares for her characters, cares to probe deep, spend time navigating the emotional geography of each protagonist -- the old as well as the young -- to expose their most intimate conflicts, reflections and desires.

Great House brings to life the complex relationships of a solitary writer and an inherited desk, a father and his alienated son, a husband and his dying wife, and the suffocating hold a father, who is an antiques dealer, has on his son and daughter. Central to these stories is a massive desk owned by a Chilean poet who disappears at the hands of Pinochet's secret police. And always present, never forgotten, are the profound effects of the Holocaust, the way tragedy and loss shapes each character, and the plight of Israeli families -- those who lose children in war, and those who live in perpetual fear of the ring of a doorbell that might herald devastating news.

"Your Honor, in the winter of 1972 R and I broke up," begins the first sentence of "Great House," situating the reader in a courtroom. The speaker, a writer, is explaining how she came to own, and eventually lose, the mysterious, wooden desk with 19 drawers, "some small and some large, whose odd number and strange array, I realized now, on the cusp of their being suddenly taken from me, had come to signify a kind of guiding if mysterious order in my life, an order that, when my work was going well, took on an almost mystical quality."

After years, a woman who maintains that she is the poet's daughter appears to claim the desk, disrupting the writer's life; so much so that she decides to lock her apartment and travel to Jerusalem, perhaps to claim the desk back, although she denies it. The reason the protagonist is in court will be revealed much later; in the meantime, being led by a sure-penned author, we settle back and enjoy the journey.

In Israel, a father is reminiscing about his estranged son, Dov, a barrister, returned home from England to sit shiva for his mother. Krauss reveals a deep understanding of the human psyche and of a father's pain, anger, longing and envy in the old man who, in the little time left to him, aches to mend his relationship with his son -- even if father and son might not possess the right tools to do so. Always present is the all-consuming fear of losing his sons to war: "It was the doorbell we feared the most. Across the street they arrived at the Biletskis' to say that Itzhak, little Itzy whom you and Uri played with as children, had been killed in the Golan."

Across the oceans, in England, the doorbell rings to announce a different kind of trouble: at the door is a stranger the husband suspects of being his wife's lover, setting a series of incidents into motion that will unearth a far more disconcerting secret. And here, too, looms the presence of the mysterious desk that "overshadowed everything else like some sort of grotesque, threatening monster, clinging to most of one wall and bullying the other pathetic bits of furniture..." A desk that will someday reveal its own set of secrets.

In the meantime, a love affair is blooming "in the house in Belsize Park that [Yoav] shares with his sister, Leah." The house is wonderfully gothic, a significant character with eccentricities of its own, "a large and dilapidated brick Victorian... filled with darkly beautiful furniture that the father, a famous antiques dealer, kept there... the rooms were always changing, taking on the mysterious moods of houses and apartments whose owners had died, gone bankrupt, or simply decided to..." In the house in Belsize Park, under the austere shadow of their father, Yoav and Leah are "locked within the walls of their own family, and in the end it wasn't possible for them to belong to anyone else." Not unlike their father who, unable to free himself of the past, dedicates his life to reassembling his own father's study that was plundered by the Nazis -- an obsessed son who will not rest until every piece of furniture is sought, transported and arranged in its rightful place.

Once again, the doorbell rings. This time Weisz, the antiques dealer, is at the door:

"Forgive me for not calling in advance... There's something I'd like to discuss with you... A desk..."

To discover the fate of the desk, and whether the possessed Weisz succeeds in his quest, pick up Great House and read it, and once you have, circle around and read it once more to better appreciate the interconnected stories and doubly enjoy the magical prose and insight of an author at the top of her form. ( )
  DoraLevyMossanen | Aug 29, 2023 |
Dit is een boek waar ik me daadwerkelijk doorheen geworsteld heb. Hoewel de schrijfster echt wel kan schrijven, vond ik haar hoofdpersonen vrijwel stuk voor stuk niet interessant. De enige die me echt wist te raken was de oude Joodse vader die wel met zijn jongste, maar niet met zijn oudste zoon wist op te schieten. Hij was echt. De rest van de personages waren me te afstandelijk, te eenzaam, te zeer van zichzelf vervuld om mij binnen te laten. Dat mag dan wellicht de bedoeling zijn geweest: het zorgde er tevens voor dat ik me totaal niet kon inleven. Hun relaas kon me echt niet boeien. Daardoor ging een groot deel van het verhaal aan mij voorbij. En mooie zinnen en een kunstig in elkaar zittend plot schieten dan tekort. ( )
  weaver-of-dreams | Aug 1, 2023 |
Krauss crafts her prose like a poet. Her word choices are unconventional but not awkward. I found her meditation on the number nineteen (the number of drawers in the desk at the heart of the narrative) interesting. There are many passages with insight into the life of a writer and the craft of writing. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 18, 2023 |
This beautifully written book is set in the US, England, and Israel. It has no primary protagonist. The novel consists of interwoven stories of five people with ties to a massive ornamental desk. The novel opens with an American novelist living in New York, who obtains the desk from a Chilean poet. Subsequent narrators fill in the history of the former owners and portray the mostly sad and tragic events of their lives. Taken individually, the stories can feel disjointed, but together they tell a poignant tale of memory, loneliness, and loss. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
After reading The History of Love, I promised myself to read something else by Nicole Krauss when I had the chance. I found Great House at a local thrift store for $1, and it was one of the best dollars I ever spent.

There are several narratives to follow and they are tied together by a desk, a desk that was part of the stolen property of Jews displaced by the Third Reich. Each of the narratives is a story in itself, a glimpse into the lives of people who struggle with their humanity and how they fit into the world at large. What each story has at its core is the theme of loss, memory and isolation. Many of these characters have an excruciating inability to reach beyond themselves and touch others or let anyone in.

This book is written like a maze, weaving in and out, characters coming and going. It is a puzzle with pieces that lie just out of the reach of your hand and without which you can never make a complete picture. There were moments when I wondered if I had missed something crucial, I felt so lost, and then Krauss would lay down her next layer and I would find the pieces interlocking and making sense. There was, within that revelation, an accompanying feeling that I had discovered something not only about the characters, but about myself.

This is a book that raises important questions and leaves you pondering answers long after you have reached the final page. How much can you know about another person? Does a person deserve to have his secrets respected after death? How long can you close a person out before it is too late to make amends? Can we ever understand a person fully if we do not have access to their history, their stories, their losses? How can we not live with death every day, when we all know death is the ultimate outcome for each of us?

And then there is the concept of a thing carrying the memory, and in some way the residual life, of those who are lost. I know from experience that when a person is gone, any possession they cherished takes on a different meaning. In some ways, it can come to embody the idea of that person and feel like a bridge to their soul. And, we can be linked in our minds to our pasts by smells and textures and breezes that blow through windows carrying sea spray or the smell of roses. We can sometimes feel that if we could recreate those things, that material world, we could repossess our lost lives, our childhood, or our loves.

Krauss writes prose that flows and sings and carries you along like a river. For example, she describes an Alzheimer’s patient in words that capture perfectly what those of us who have known the progress of this disease easily recognize.

I could see in her eyes that beneath those words there was nothing, just an abyss, like the black-water pond she disappeared into every morning no matter the weather. Then followed a period when she became scared, aware of how much she was losing by the day, perhaps even the hour, like a person slowly bleeding to death, hemorrhaging toward oblivion...And then even that period passed, and she no longer remembered enough to be afraid, no longer remembered, I suppose, that things had ever been any other way, and from then on she set off along, utterly alone, on a long journey back to the shores of her childhood.

If I was jolted by her transition from story to story, I was pulled back into the story immediately by her use of description and language. The thread may have been tenuous at times, but it was worth any effort required to follow the thread to its end.

( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 116 (next | show all)
Tegelijk zijn het dergelijke zwaar aangezette scènes die de roman doen overhellen naar kitsch. Vooral omdat Krauss je niet de kans geeft om er zelf conclusies uit te trekken. Ligt het sentiment er al vrij dik bovenop, ze smeert er nog een laag bij door steeds te spreken van ‘tremendous guilt’ en ‘crushing sadness’. Er wordt hier zo veel verteld over gevoelens dat er weinig daadwerkelijk te voelen valt.
added by SimoneA | editNRC, Yra van Dijk (Nov 3, 2010)
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For Sasha and Cy
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Talk to him.
There are times when the kindness of strangers only makes matters worse because one realizes how badly one is in need of kindness and that the only source is a stranger.
It was one of those winter nights in England when the darkness that falls at three makes nine feel like midnight, reminding one of how far north one has staked one's life.
We stood in the hall of the house that had once been all of our house, a house that had been filled with life, every last room of it brimming with laughter, arguments, tears, dust, the smell of food, pain, desire, anger, and silence, too, the tightly coiled silence of people pressed up against each other in what is called a family.
As if to touch, ritually, one last time, every enduring pocket of pain. No, the powerful emotions of youth don’t mellow with time. One gets a grip on them, cracks a whip, forces them down. You build your defenses. Insist on order. The strength of feeling doesn’t lessen, it is simply contained.
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Connected solely by a desk of enormous dimension and many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away, three people--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--struggle to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss.

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393079988, 0393340643

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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