Jewish mem­ory over­whelms its his­tory

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Magazine - By Mary­lynne Pitz

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.

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