Jewish memory overwhelms its history
Nicole Krauss, a novelist who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., says Israel is “a deep constant” in her life.
Generations of her family emigrated to Israel before it became a state in May 1948. The author’s great-grandparents and grandparents built new lives in the country that attracts artists, scientists, religious tourists, Holocaust scholars, rabbis, young people and students.
Ms. Krauss’ latest novel, “Forest Dark,” out this month from HarperCollins, recounts the journeys of two people:
Jules Epstein, 68, visits Israel with the goal of memorializing his late parents. He has divorced his wife, retired and started to give away his possessions. Nicole, a novelist whose marriage is falling apart, stays in the Tel Aviv Hilton, a place familiar to her since childhood.
Eliezer Friedman, a mysterious academic, approaches Nicole with a plan to rescue papers that belonged to Franz Kafka. During a conversation, he tells Nicole that Jewish memory is more important than Jewish history. Friedman contends that Jews have not learned from their history.
“I do think that what Friedman is saying is true,” the 43year-old author said In a telephone interview.
For many thousands of years, what has kept Jews alive is the power of their memory and their belief in passing it on, she said.
“My mother’s parents made aliyah to Jerusalem when I was 12. My grandparents were all European. My mom grew up in London, my dad in Tel Aviv and America.”
Life for people in Israel “is increasingly different than the AmericanJewish life,” she said.
“In Israel you have a society that is not yet even 70 years old and it is constantly inventing itself on the ground. There’s a sense of liveness to it.”
Kafka, author of “A Hunger Artist” and “The Trial,” is a prominent figure in the novel.
“I don’t feel that readers of this book necessarily need to be well-schooled in Kafka,” she said.
Ms. Krauss used to walk by an apartment in Tel Aviv where Kafka's papers were kept.
“I would look at those barred windows and think, ‘Is Kafka imprisoned in there or is it us, the readers of Kafka, who stand outside and yearn for knowledge of the Kafka we don't know?’ ”
The author’s literary executor, Max Brod, guarded his papers closely.