“…in Israel no one can ever agree on the way the world appears, and despite the violence of the never-ending argument, the basic admittance of discord had always been a relief to me.”
Forest Dark is about two very different people, completely unconnected, searching for some sense of something in Israel. Jules Epstein, a wealthy, loud, opinionated and boorish retired lawyer, is recently divorced. He is struggling with who he is, the personalities of his children and what comes next. “On the eve of the first anniversary of his parents’ death. Epstein decided two things: to take out a $2 million line of credit on his Fifth Avenue apartment, and to go on a trip to Israel. …Israel was a place he’d returned to often over the years, drawn by a tangle of allegiances.” Epstein’s residence of choice was the Tel Aviv Hilton.
Krauss never shares the name of the second person, although this reader can only imagine that the second person is loosely (or maybe not loosely) based on the author herself. This second person is an author, a mother of two and unhappily married. She leaves her family behind for a trip to Tel Aviv after she receives a call from her father’s cousin, Effie, telling her that Eliezer Friedman, a professor of literature and former member of the Mossad, had something he wished to discuss with her. The author’s residence of choice was the Tel Aviv Hilton.
The book moves back and forth between the experiences of Epstein and the author. Epstein is befriended by a Rabbi, Menachem Klausner. Rabbi Klausner takes Epstein to Gilgul for Shabbat, where Epstein experiences a highly spiritual environment, and also encounters the Rabbi’s beautiful daughter, Yael.
Rabbi Klausner is organizing a reunion of the descendants of David, and invites Epstein to attend, insisting that he is a descendant. Epstein spends much of the story giving away his wealth, including $2 million to plant a forest in memory of his parents in northern Negev. When Yael needs money for a movie she is making about David, Epstein is all in, but for a minor issue. At the end, Epstein seems to just wander away.
Our author arrives in Tel Aviv and meets up with Eliezer Friedman. Friedman is very mysterious, but tells her a tale about Franz Kafka and his attachment to Palestine. He appears to ask our author to write an ending to an unfinished Kafka novel, although that is not exactly clear. In the process of this mystery, our author and Friedman’s dog are whisked away by the Israeli army to a tiny house in the desert, left to write (or something) and promptly forgotten. Friedman simply disappears.
Throughout the novel, the author delves into the difficulty of writing, the disappointments of literature, the challenges of marriage and the complexities of family and children. In her effort to dig deep and search for meaning and explanations, the musings often feel trivial and border on incoherent in parts. Although the book has its moments, it seemed to me pretentious and self-indulgent. I could not figure out exactly what she was trying to tell me. I suggest a pass on this one but if you want to read it to get a feel for the history and customs of Israel, you can reserve it when it comes out in September by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11266876__Sforest%20dark__P0%2C2__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold