Nicole Krauss' 'Forest Dark' features parallel stories of reinvention
Nicole Krauss' new novel features a character named Nicole who is a writer, has children, and is divorced. Krauss is a writer, has children, and is divorced.
Is “Forest Dark” (Harper, $27.99) a veiled way for Krauss to convey elements and concerns from her life? While there are similarities between the author and character, Krauss was more intent on provoking questions and conversations about the nature of fiction.
“One of the questions has to deal with asking the reader to wonder why we — all of us — somehow value what we think is true more than what we think is fiction or invention or art,” says Krauss, who appears Sept. 19 at Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland as a guest of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures New & Noted. “When we know that art, in a sense, is the truth of who we are over and over again. And yet if something is a true story, somehow we feel that it is allowed to affect us more.”
“Forest Dark” features the parallel stories of Nicole and Jules Epstein, a wealthy lawyer who, at the age of 68, decides to give away much of his fortune and move to Tel Aviv. Epstein's journey mirrors Nicole's decision to leave behind her family in Brooklyn and also go to Israel, where she meets Elie Friedman, an academic who solicits her for a fabulous project: working on an unfinished Franz Kafka play.
Kafka, Friedman insists, did not die in 1924, but moved to Palestine where he lived the rest of his life as an anonymous gardener. It is a tale that beggars belief, but Friedman (who may or may not have worked for the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency) insists it's true.
Throughout “Forest Dark,” Krauss explores the idea of a multiverse, in which an infinite number of universes and outcomes are possible. A novel, for instance, begins as a multiverse of possible outcomes. But once a story begins, the multiverse theory implodes as a writer is forced to consider a finite number of outcomes.
“You will not be able to unmake and unwrite and say and have the style and tone of all the other things it could have been,” Krauss says. “But in the process of committing to forms, to characters, to stories, to ideas, we can inhabit them, we can make use of them. And sometimes they can deliver us through to the other side, the side where we get a view of infinity … that we long for so much. We're so limited in our finite lives, and yet we know under the surface there is this thing that is infinite, somehow, and we are related to it.”
In the novel, both Epstein and Nicole go to Israel seeking resolution to their lives. Krauss, too, often travels to the country, as she has done since childhood. The author says Israel is the place that has been a “geographical constant for generations” in her family and a second home for her.
“I do feel that division of being both here and there,” Krauss says. “It's a place that I think, in a sense, was the ideal place to send these two characters engaged in an act of transformation or reinvention of their own selves. Whether they're Jews or not, frankly. Because what you find in Israel is a society engaged in emerging and the daily process of inventing itself.
“I'm talking about modern Israel and the modern Hebrew language, and Tel Aviv in particular has become the place for a certain counterculture where artists, young people, inventors, are really reinventing their already new culture. … You go there and you immediately feel the temperatures are high, the questions are existential, the matters are urgent, and everything is out in the open.”
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.