BOOKWORM: A desk’s sentimental value

“Great House” by Nicole Krauss c. 2010, W.W. Norton, $24.95, 352 pages.

  • Monday, October 18, 2010 3:47pm
  • Life

“Great House” by Nicole Krauss c. 2010, W.W. Norton, $24.95, 352 pages.

In the new book “Great House” by Nicole Krauss, several people become passionate about an enormous desk that holds stories.

When R broke up with Nadia and took everything, a friend told her about a Chilean poet who was going back home and needed someone to care for his furniture until he could fetch it. Grateful, she accepted what the man offered, but she was taken aback by the desk.

It was huge, easily the biggest thing in any room, and filled with odd-sized drawers. Nadia couldn’t imagine using it but for 25 years she did, and she became famous for the books written at that desk.

It was just furniture. So why was she heartbroken when a young woman, claiming to be a dead man’s daughter, came to New York to take it?

When Arthur met Lotte, he knew she had a past that she didn’t discuss. Lotte was an enigma, starting with her escape from the Nazis and ending with the gigantic desk she seemed to love and that she kept in the attic.

It was quite a surprise, then, when Lotte gave her beloved desk to a young, dark-haired stranger who admired it. But that wasn’t the only surprise Lotte had to offer.

In Jerusalem, two siblings hide from the world, only trusting each other. Leah and Yaov moved a lot with their father, an antiques dealer who taught them self-sufficiency and tight reliance. He never figured they’d learn the art of duplicity on their own.

And on the other side of town, a man mourns his wife as he rails at his son. Dov was always a strange boy, and he grew up to be a strange man. Why couldn’t he be more like his brother?

Reminiscent of an old 1920s novel, author Nicole Krauss tells the story of love and disgust – both of a beloved and of one’s self – and a desk that holds different meanings to the people who wrangle to own it. I liked this book but I would’ve liked it a whole lot more had it relaxed and not tried so hard to be “great literature.”

If you like lighter fare, take a pass. But if you relish deep literary novels, then “Great House” is one you’ll enjoy.

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