Hannah Grippo's Reviews > Great House

Great House by Nicole Krauss
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's review
Jul 28, 2011

it was amazing

Jerusalem, O’ Jerusalem. Maybe to classify Nicole Krauss as a Jewish writer is to miss the point (I’m sort of quoting how she described on of her own characters in “The History of Love”). She can write mysteries, love stories, parent and children stories, and the uncertainty of many existences no matter what her blood and culture. But. At the same time, I learn what it means to be a Jew through her as I learn through no one else. It’s not only her nonlinear writing or that her characters are Jewish and very aware they’re Jewish, but she cuts deep into the veins back into ancient rapture with Abraham in question, age, seeking, desire, confusion, heartbreak, love. This is a book about parents and children getting each other, receiving from each other, giving up each other, and, of course, about the circumstances we find ourselves in and about hidden rams. I also learn Jewish mind from her here, the concept our life now being all we got to explore rather than seeking a definition for all those ways after death may bring. Then I learn of a question that many ask throughout history, “how does a Jew survive without Jerusalem?” Does one disappear? It's implicitly asked throughout Great House. The title comes from the 2nd book of Kings. “He burned the house of God, the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; even every great house he burned with fire." So many people are making houses in this book. One character, Weiss makes it his life goal to recreate the house he lost to the Nazis by traveling through the earth to reclaim every stolen piece of furniture, Martha and Anna Freud make a new house in England looking just like the one in Germany for Sigmund as he escapes one death for another, and number of others throughout the book, rebuilding temples whether literally or spiritually.

The book is 4 stories. Four sets of people, not knowing their connected at all (in fact the reader may have trouble connecting them, but they indeed do). There’s a desk at the center. A withdrawn American writer has been holding it for a young Chilean poet who was taken by Pinochet’s police. She writes her works there, but gives the desk up when a young girl, the poet’s daughter, shows up for it. In Israel, during fighting (of course) an old man but new widower reaches out for his youngest son whom he’s had great trouble connecting to since he was born (you know how in the Testament, the youngest is almost always the chosen on). In England, there are two families. One is an elderly, childless couple. A book scholar and a writer. While the senior is caring for the later who develops Alzheimer’s, he discovers a great and terrible secret. The other family are two rich motherless children with an fiercely caring father. All stories are worth reading, but I can not go further in explaining them as Krauss is a realistic and great mystery writer and that part of the reason for reading the book.

And yet. Like with “The History of Love“, you feel satisfied at any page. Not with conclusion or closure at all, but with the way she writes. Maybe sometimes it's too much. I read some reviews that often there is too much poetry that insists upon itself. I can't argue with that and may often agree except when in the thought process that she's an author who doesn't exactly write poetry, but about poetry. And in that way, she's good. Really good. She has beautiful ability to become any age or sex, a sense of characters trying to make sense, a stimulus to one’s mind with history stories and paintings and all kinds of real writers passing through the lines. The last is one of the best things. I learned so many happenings and names with Krauss that I didn‘t know existed before, so many new writing and stories.

I am taking in the haunting and filling taste of milk and honey whenever reading her.

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