One of my favourite pastimes is browsing around bookstores and pick up books randomly. Randomness may lead to some serendipitous find, not necessarily anything significant or life changing. Quite often, I cannot recall how I came to know about a book and I had to read it . Forest Dark was one of the books that I picked up when I visited Kinokuniya bookstore a few years ago.
We should always read with intent every text we read. But there are some fictions that definitely require one to be mindful and immerse in the story with full attention to get the most out of them. Forest Dark written by Nicole Krauss is such a fiction. The author expounds her thoughts in her narrations when she takes you on a journey meandering through two main characters, Nicole, a novelist and Jules Epstein, a lawyer. It is an introspective journey of two protagonists who have fallen out of step with their respective lives.
Krauss describes Jules Epstein as someone who could not abide the idea of being taken advantage of.
‘Belief, with its passive trust, required putting oneself in other hands, and as such it made one susceptible to the worst sort of insidiousness. Epstein saw it everywhere. …’
Jules ‘had believed in very little that he wouldn’t see, and more than that, he’d had something against belief. Not just because of its grand potential for error. ‘
At 68, in the wake of his parents’ deaths, Jules Epstein, once an ambitious and driven lawyer abruptly divorces his wife and starts relinquishing his possessions by giving away much of his art collection and money that he had spent a lifetime accumulating. He attends a dinner of American Jewish leaders with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority but he has reached a point where all the empty, obligatory talk about peace no longer means anything. He is getting tired of it all – tired of the hot air and lip service. He departs New York for the Tel Aviv Hilton.
‘When his son Jonah, trying not to appear driven by self-interest, tried to dissuade him from further philanthropy, Epstein told him he was clearing a space to think. If Jonah had pointed out that his father had been a rigorous thinker all his life, Epstein might have explained that this was thought of an entirely different nature : a thinking that didn’t already know its own point. A thinking without hope of achievement. But Jonah – who had so many chips on his shoulder that one evening, on a private tour of the new Greek and Roman galleries at the Met, Epstein had stood before a second-century bust and seen his firstborn in it – had only answered him with injured silence. As with everything Epstein did, Jonah took his father’s deliberate draining of assets as an affront , and yet another reason to feel aggrieved. ‘
Jules tells Maya, his youngest daughter ‘that he had begun to feel choked by all the things around him” and that ‘ he felt an irrestible longing for lightness –it was quality, he realized only now,that had been alien to him all his life.’
Meanwhile, Nicole, a famous novelist, at 39, is thrown off course by her failing marriage and her writer’s block. Both Nicole and Jules happen to be two individuals who decide to head impulsively and compulsively to Tel Aviv Hilton that holds some significance in their early lives. In Israel, Jules encounters Rabbi Kausner who tries to convince him that he is a descendant of King David. Nicole meets Eliezer Friedman, a retired literature professor and she is asked to write tbe real end of Kafka’s life. Krauss has included some interesting anecdotes about Kafka.
In Nicole’s voice,
‘ Opening to the first page of Kafka’s Parables and Paradoxes, I began to read :
Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says, “ Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it ; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us , something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least.
I felt a little upswell of frustration. When I thought about Kafka at a distance from his books, I almost always forgot this feeling……….
Both Epstein and Nicole are fleeing from their current life.There is no link between the two individuals except that they do not know what to expect when they decide to go back to Israel. They are searching for something that cannot be explained.
Here is another snippet in Nicole’s voice.
‘Yes , I decided, my father would have been the most obvious and cogent leader of the search party, whereas my mother, in her distress, would have been disorganized and largely useless. Surely my children would not yet have been told anything. As for my husband, I really had no idea how he would have responded to the news that I’d disappeared : it was very possible that he might have felt ambivalent, and perhaps even relieved at the prospect of being able to go through the rest of his life without me looking skeptically over at him.’
I find the following passage from the review written by Anna E. Clark (click) quite aptly describes Forest Dark.
‘ Krauss’s novel propels its protagonists toward somethings that also manage to be nothings. Both Nicole and Epstein travel to Israel in an attempt to reconnect with their familial pasts; both stay in the Tel Aviv Hilton; both are briefly conscripted by mysterious men on Zionist missions; both get caught up in other artists’ creative projects. Yet, all these signs of plot flame up only to sputter out. Novels have trained us to imbue coincidences with significance, but Forest Dark creates them only to insist on their randomness.’
The prose by Nicole Krauss click is clever while the story is infused with humour and insightful narrations.
Forest Dark is not an easy read. It is definitely a commendable read.