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.
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.
A brilliant novel.
I am full of admiration.
Krauss’ entrancing and mysterious novel follows the strange journeys of two secular American Jews in Israel who are nearly hijacked by two fervent visionaries on missions of either discovery or delusion. Epstein is a man of means, power, and accomplishment who is baffling his staff and grown children by giving away his carefully acquired treasures and withdrawing from his life. Nicole, a writer unable to write and whose marriage is faltering, often feels as though she’s in two places at once as she thinks about the multiverse theory and her sharp childhood memories of the monolithic Tel Aviv Hilton. Epstein is taken up by a rabbi planning a gathering of the descendants of King David. Nicole comes under the spell of an alleged friend of a cousin who recounts a wild story about Kafka’s secret life in Palestine, which Krauss ties to a hilarious and poignant take on the real-life battle in Israel over Kafka’s papers. As both seekers end up alone in the desert, Epstein in ecstasy, Nicole in wonder-struck peril, Krauss reflects with singing emotion and sagacity on Jewish history; war; the ancient, plundered forests of the Middle East; and the paradoxes of being. A resounding look at the enigmas of the self and the persistence of the past.
— Donna Seaman
Nicole Krauss confirms her reputation as one of the great living American writers in this bravura novel of the changes that life throws at us, and how we deal with the fallout.
Two people walk away from their lives, both convening at the Tel Aviv Hilton. Sixty-eight-year-old Jules Epstein has been disappearing for years, while a novelist leaves her husband and children in Brooklyn. Looking out over the deep blue of the pool, both will embark on a journey that will change them, even more than their departure.
Witty, unusual and deeply moving, Forest Dark is a profound and constantly engaging novel of metamorphosis and empathy, one that will be one of the most praised of 2017.