cover image Forest Dark

Forest Dark

Nicole Krauss. Harper, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-243099-1

Krauss’s elegant, provocative, and mesmerizing novel is her best yet. Rich in profound insights and emotional resonance, it follows two characters on their paths to self-realization. In present-day Israel, two visiting Americans—one a young wife, mother, and novelist, the other an elderly philanthropist—experience transcendence. In alternating chapters, Krauss (The History of Love) first presents Jules Epstein, a high-powered retired Manhattan lawyer whose relentless energy has dimmed with his recent divorce, the death of his parents, and an inchoate desire to divest himself of the chattels of his existence. A change of POV introduces a narrator—a Brooklyn resident named Nicole who has a failing marriage, two young children, and writer’s block. Both Jules and Nicole are vulnerable to despair and loss of faith, and trust in conventional beliefs. Although they never meet, similar existential crises bring them to Tel Aviv, where each is guided by a mysterious Israeli and experiences glimpses of a surreal world where they feel their true identities lie. A charismatic rabbi, Menachem Klausner, claims that Jules is a descendant of King David. Meanwhile, Nicole is lured into meeting Eliezer Friedman, a retired literature professor and perhaps an ex-Mossad agent who attempts to convince Nicole of a preposterous but increasingly alluring idea: that Franz Kafka didn’t die in Prague but secretly was smuggled into Israel. He wants Nicole to write about the hidden life of this famous literary figure. Nicole’s conversations with Friedman and Epstein’s with Klausner about God and the creation of the world are bracingly intellectual and metaphysical. Vivid, intelligent, and often humorous, this novel is a fascinating tour de force. (Sept.)