Within minutes of finishing Nicole Krauss‘ The History of Love, I felt so bereft without Alma Singer and Leo Gorsky, that I immediately clicked my iPod to The Great House. [Thank goodness the hubby keeps my gadgets well-stocked!] How pleased I was to discover that, of the sizable cast of narrators, one of them was actually named Alma (Cuervo) and another was George Guidall who so convincingly voiced History‘s Leo. House was off to a serendipitous start.
As with History, Krauss asks readers to work: in House, you’ll have to piece together the seemingly unrelated stories for yourself.
In New York, isolated Nadia has written all her books at a certain desk left in her care by a young Chilean poet, Daniel Varsky, who claimed that Lorca had once used it. Decades later, a young girl, explaining she is Daniel’s daughter, comes to claim it. In Israel, a widowed father examines and questions his relationship with his two grown sons, especially the younger. In Highgate, London, an older man cares for his wife, who has in recent years begun to lose her memory to dementia; her writing has always come forth sitting at a certain unmistakable desk. In Belsize Park, London, an American student recalls her relationship with the enigmatic Weisz siblings – one she befriended, the other she loved – and their mysterious, renowned antiques dealer father.
As disparate as these chapters might initially seem, they do commingle and dovetail one into the other. The reward comes with patience …
Although House is the most critically acclaimed of Krauss’ thus-far three novels – it was, most recently, a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award – History surely remains the stronger title. House is heavy with Themes (yes, capitalization intended), both looming – the Holocaust – and more subtly hinted – the Israeli expulsion of Palestinians. Throughout every chapter, parent/child relationships are examined, deconstructed, and re-imagined in various permutations. As the story fragments begin to overlap, the characters who narrate (Nadia and Arthur especially) too soon wallow in self-absorption, while the characters without direct voice (Daniel, Lotte, Dov) don’t speak enough.
And yet … Krauss’ clever, compelling writing will undoubtedly keep you reading (or listening). Your need to know will outstrip any exasperation. Once you start, it’s the final chapter or bust … and yes, you do have to read all previous seven for your ‘aha’-moment of revelation. Don’t miss it.