is a 2017 novel by American writer Nicole Krauss. Set between New York City and Tel Aviv, Israel, the novel interweaves two stories. Sixty-eight-year-old Jewish-American attorney Jules Epstein is in crisis, and behaving in a way that alarms his children. Meanwhile Nicole, a novelist—also Jewish, also a New Yorker—is suffering from writer’s block in the midst of a failing marriage. Independently of one another, both characters travel to Israel seeking answers. The title is taken from the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno
, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s translation.
The novel opens in Israel, where Jules Epstein’s children have gathered in the wake of their father’s sudden disappearance. They discuss the fact that since the death of his own parents, Jules has been behaving strangely. He has given away much of his valuable collection of art.
From his children’s discussion, the novel moves back in time to before Jules’s disappearance, finding him at a high-powered dinner for Mahmoud Abbas. Jules refuses to give his planned speech, standing at the microphone in silence instead. At the dinner, he meets Israeli Rabbi Klausner, who tells Jules that he—Jules—is a descendant of the Biblical King David.
Elsewhere in New York City Nicole is struggling. Once a confident novelist with a growing reputation, she is unable to write. Her marriage is falling apart, and she has begun to chafe against the restrictions of her domestic life. Unable to sleep, she listens to the radio. After hearing a story about the theory of the “multiverse,” she begins to imagine that her current life is a dream and that in reality, she is asleep in the Hilton hotel in Tel Aviv (where, she knows, she was conceived).
One day, during a phone call, Nicole’s Israeli cousin Effie mentions that a man recently died at the Tel Aviv Hilton, by falling—or jumping—from the balcony of his room. Nicole decides that this is a sign, and books herself on a flight to Tel Aviv, telling herself that she will kickstart her writing there.
In Tel Aviv, Effie introduces Nicole to retired literary critic Eliezer Friedman. Friedman shows her around the city, ending his tour at an apartment building. Friedman explains that one of the apartments contains the unpublished works of the writer Franz Kafka. These manuscripts were brought to Israel by Kafka’s friend Max Brod, who subsequently bequeathed them to his mistress. The apartment belongs to the mistress’s daughter, Eva Hoffe. Friedman wants Nicole to write an ending to an unfinished play by Kafka.
The novel picks up the narrative of Jules Epstein as he makes his way to Tel Aviv, on the same flight as Rabbi Klausner. Klausner invites Jules to an event he is putting together for the descendants of King David. In the meantime, Jules is welcome to stay at the rabbi’s spiritual retreat, a place called “Gilgul,” which Klausner explains is the Hebrew word for “cycle” or “wheel,” and also the word used to express the concept of the transmigration of souls. Jules accepts the invitation. At the retreat, he takes the time to reflect on his relationship with his parents. He feels that he has failed to honor their lives with his own, so far.
Jules accidentally walks in on a woman bathing. She is Klausner’s daughter, Yael.
Nicole tells Friedman that she does not want to finish Kafka’s play, but she agrees to accompany him on a trip to the Dead Sea. During this trip, Friedman reveals a still more unbelievable narrative about Kafka: that in his last years he became a Zionist, faked his own death, and fled to Palestine with Brod’s help. He spent his final days on a kibbutz in the desert. In passing, Friedman mentions that in Hebrew, the title of Kafka’s famous story “Metamorphosis” is “Ha Gilgul.”
Nicole accompanies Friedman back to Eva Hoffe’s apartment, where he collects a suitcase. As they drive away, Friedman and Nicole are stopped at a military checkpoint. Nicole is driven, alone, into the desert and left at an isolated shack. The briefcase has been left with her.
Having dreamed of a forest, Jules decides to plant one in his parents’ honor and begins raising funds to do so. At the Tel Aviv Hilton—where he is staying—Yael visits to tell Jules about the reunion event for David’s descendants, which Jules missed. Yael tells Jules that she is making a film about David’s life.
Intrigued by Yael and her project, Jules agrees to meet her cast and crew; he accompanies the filmmakers to their desert set. When the actor meant to play David in his old age fails to show up, Jules puts on the costume and steps onto the set. While the crew discusses lighting, Jules shucks off his cloak and walks into the desert, never to be seen again.
In the isolated shack, Nicole is beginning to hallucinate. She feels she is “falling out of time.” After several days, she begins to regain her senses and decides to try to walk to safety, carrying the suitcase. Struggling in the heat, she drops the suitcase (which she still has not opened) in the desert. She is rescued by a passing taxi driver, who delivers her to a hospital in Tel Aviv. When she has recovered, she calls the university where Friedman had been a professor, only to find that they have no record of him. Sitting by the pool at the Tel Aviv Hilton, she sees a man jump to his death from a balcony. She returns to Brooklyn, where she leaves her husband.
Described as an “ambitiously high-concept tale” by Kirkus Reviews
, Forest Dark
, Krauss’s fourth novel, secured her reputation as a major contemporary American novelist.