Saturday, February 17, 2018

Forest Dark by Nicole Krause

While I very much enjoyed Krause's prior novels, I don't think I understood this one at all.  I struggled through the whole book hoping it would all come together, but for me it never did.  There were lengthy references to Kafka and maybe if I was more familiar with his work the book would have made sense...

I guess I should have known I wouldn't like this book when the cover page testimonial is from Philip Roth, whose work I detest, but having read her books before I was still hopeful.  My advice to you - don't bother.

Just a brief summary of the two interchanging plots (if they had anything to do with each other besides the fact that they involved strange people on quests through Israel, I couldn't discern it).  Jules Epstein is a 68 year old wealthy man, who in the wake of his parents' deaths, his retirement from his law firm and his divorce, starts giving away all of his assets.  In a last attempt to shed more wealth he travels to Israel to try to set up a memorial of some sort to his parents.  There he is sidetracked by a weird American rabbi who claims Epstein is a direct descendant of King David and invites him to a convention of other such descendants.  While he misses the conference as he is scouting out a location for a forest in honour of his parents, he decides to waste more money funding the rabbi's daughter's movie about the king.  That's about all I understood of his story.

The second story (told in alternating chapters) was about a young novelist who is struggling with writer's block and a failing marriage so abandons her husband and young children to set up shop in the Tel Aviv Hilton where she spent many childhood summers.  She thinks she will write about the hotel and being there will get her started.  Instead she becomes sidetracked by Friedman who she's told is a former Mossad agent.  Friedman tries to convince her he has access to secret works by Kafka and she should complete some of his unfinished works.  He also tells her that contrary to popular belief, Kafka didn't die in Europe but staged his death and moved to Palestine to live as a gardener under an assumed name.  Somehow this leads to her getting dropped off by the army in the desert, developing a fever and ending up in the hospital.  When she gets out Friedman is nowhere to be found - so maybe she imagined the whole thing while suffering from a fever??

Oh, I thought of two other connections between the stories.  Epstein also stayed at the Hilton and his rabbi mentor's house/retreat was called Gilgul which is apparently the Hebrew name for Kafka's Metamorphosis.

If you're confused by this, it's because so was I!

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