In her long-awaited and newest novel, Nicole Krauss has written two books in one. In alternating chapters she tells the story of two unrelated people who have become lost and run away to Israel in the hope of finding themselves or possibly of losing themselves even more.
The only connections seem to be the Tel Aviv Hilton and the Israeli desert, although they don’t cross paths in either place, or anywhere else, in this rich double tale.
We learn first about Jules Epstein, a dynamic and successful lawyer in Manhattan who begins to shed his wealth, his family and ultimately his desire to live.
Using the third-person narrative, Krauss, who appears Nov. 14 at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center, paints a vivid picture of a man who has become unattached to the material world by force (he is mugged) and by choice (donating his vast fortune in memory of parents who might not be deserving of the honor).
In stark contrast, the parallel story of a writer named Nicole (no last name is given) is told in the first person, which raises a question: How autobiographical is this novel?
The narration may seem at first to be more intimate, but it also is bogged down by the philosophical meanderings of the novelist. While the story of Jules is physical and raw, the story of Nicole is a Kafkaesque journey into her thoughtful and probing mind (pun intended).
If you are not already a Kafka expert, you will want to Google him, especially the recently settled lawsuit about his personal papers, which takes center stage in Nicole’s drama.
Still, the writing is beautiful. There are so many standout lines that my copy is dogeared and covered in yellow highlighter.
About motherhood: “No she had not been a calming force, his mother. … She had brought him to a state of vibrancy by means of provocation.”
About children: “Every day they were replacing the atoms they were born with with those absorbed from their surroundings. Childhood is a process of slowly re-composing oneself out of the borrowed materials of the world.”
While the themes of the lives of Epstein and Nicole are intertwined, ultimately their stories are unique and each their own.