Great House [NOOK Book]


Finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in Fiction

Winner of the 2011 ABA Indies Choice Honor Award in Fiction

Winner of the 2011...

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Great House

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Finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in Fiction

Winner of the 2011 ABA Indies Choice Honor Award in Fiction

Winner of the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Award

Shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize in Fiction

A powerful, soaring novel about a stolen desk that contains the secrets, and becomes the obsession, of the lives it passes through.

For twenty-five years, a reclusive American novelist has been writing at the desk she inherited from a young Chilean poet who disappeared at the hands of Pinochet’s secret police; one day a girl claiming to be the poet’s daughter arrives to take it away, sending the writer’s life reeling. Across the ocean, in the leafy suburbs of London, a man caring for his dying wife discovers, among her papers, a lock of hair that unravels a terrible secret. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer slowly reassembles his father’s study, plundered by the Nazis in Budapest in 1944.

Connecting these stories is a desk of many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or have given it away. As the narrators of Great House make their confessions, the desk takes on more and more meaning, and comes finally to stand for all that has been taken from them, and all that binds them to what has disappeared. Great House is a story haunted by questions: What do we pass on to our children and how do they absorb our dreams and losses? How do we respond to disappearance, destruction, and change?

Nicole Krauss has written a soaring, powerful novel about memory struggling to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss. "This is a novel about the long journey of a magnificent desk as it travels through the twentieth century from one owner to the next. It is also a novel about love, exile, the defilements of war, and the restorative power of language."—National Book Award citation

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

For twenty-five years, the simple, handsome desk had been her writing nook; then one day, a woman claiming to be the daughter of its previous owner appeared at her door to retrieve it. That woman was an impostor and her theft the first falling domino in Nicole Krauss' elegant new tale of secrets, subterfuge, and recovery. This subtle, enthralling novel drew this pre-publication rave: "The richness of invention, the beauty of the prose, the aptness of her central images (oh, the desk!), the depth of feeling: Who could not be moved?"

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
What gives the quickening of life to this elegiac novel…[is] exquisitely chosen sensory details that reverberate with emotional intensity…Krauss has taken great risks in dispensing with the whimsy and humor that she summoned for her tragic vision in The History of Love. Here she gives us her tragic vision pure. It is a high-wire performance, only the wire has been replaced by an exposed nerve, and you hold your breath, and she does not fall.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A writing desk serves as Krauss's literary device to connect five striking vignettes. So, too, are the characters emotionally linked through lives that involve writing and reading, love overshadowed by loss, and connection outweighed by isolation. The book is narrated at a stately pace—which will be appreciated by the serious listener who might wish to stop the audio to write down a line or two—by Robert Ian MacKenzie (narrator of McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series) who demonstrates that he can do wonders with material he can sink his teeth into. His performance as a British professor married to a reclusive writer is a marvel, and Alma Cuervo's evocation of a lonely author haunted by her relationship to a previous owner of the desk is affecting and nuanced. Listeners who enjoy lingering over a top-notch novel will be intellectually nourished by this audio. A Norton hardcover. (Oct.)
Starred Review: Krauss’ masterful rendition of character is breathtaking, compelling.... This tour de force of fiction writing will deeply satisfy fans of the author’s first two books and bring her legions more.
Book Page
Surely if there is one book each author is meant to write, then there might also be one book each reader is meant to read. For plenty of fans out there, Great House just might be that book.
Yevgeniya Traps - New York Press
“Artlessly lovely… the pleasure of reading this book is in its details, its intimation of sincerity, its quiet wisdom.”
The New York Times Book Review
[An] elegiac novel…achieved through exquisitely chosen sensory details that reverberate with emotional intensity. Here [Krauss] gives us her tragic vision pure. It is a high-wire performance, only the wire has been replaced by an exposed nerve, and you hold your breath, and she does not fall.— Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
The Wall Street Journal
[Krauss] writes of her characters’ despair with striking lucidity…an eloquent dramatization of the need to find that missing piece that will give life its meaning.— Sam Sacks
The San Francisco Chronicle
While her prior, much-vaunted novel, The History of Love, was certainly fresh and winning, Great House strikes me as a richer, more seasoned exploration of the themes and images that bedevil Krauss… Krauss’ sentences are so beautiful, rendered in such simple, clear language, I had to stop to reread many.— Joan Frank
The Boston Globe
[The characters’] stunningly distinct and lively voices hold us captive to their versions of their lives. Krauss, who began her career as a poet, can do just about anything with the English language.— Ann Harleman
The most heartbreaking part of Great House, the third novel by Nicole Krauss, is having to finish it…As the mysteries of this beautifully written novel come spooling out, you’ll marvel at how profoundly one brilliantly crafted metaphor involving a mute wooden artifact can remind us what it means to be alive.— Rachel Rosenblit
Associated Press Staff
A novel brimming with insights into the human psyche…often haunting and ultimately rewarding.— Monica Rhor
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Krauss’ organic scenes soar, she is stunning.— Karen R. Long
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Exquisite…Krauss is a poetic stylist whose prose gives tremendous weight to her characters’ pain and struggles.— Sharon Dilworth
Krauss has a unique way of assembling novels—baroque, complex, and with stunning tidiness that isn’t clear until the very last page. All the parts do fit together in the end. The shape they form is the ghastly Great House, and its walls are ideas that leave the reader reverberating.— Jennie Rothenberg Gritz
New York Press
Artlessly lovely… the pleasure of reading this book is in its details, its intimation of sincerity, its quiet wisdom.— Yevgeniya Traps
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
[A] brave new novel…[Krauss] has written one of the most lyrical novels I’ve read in a long time.— Mike Fischer
Jewish Week
With grace and originality, Krauss writes of loss and many kinds of loneliness, the connections between memory and objects, between memory and identity, and about uncertainty.— Sandee Brawarsky
The Denver Post
Steeped in place and memory, Great House is a worthy successor to Krauss’ earlier works, more complex and more challenging.— Robin Vidimos
Krauss’ third novel…is perhaps even more indicative [than The History of Love] of her ability to weave intricate storylines, craft emotionally layered characters and expertly draw out the pain, difficulty, and extreme complexity of human relationships.— Juliet Linderman
Huffington Post
A complex, richly imagined new novel… Krauss’s talent runs deep. And she cannot write a bad sentence: pound for pound, the sentences alone deliver epiphany upon epiphany.— Janet Byrne
Library Journal
An ominous writing desk is pivotal to the lives of the narrators of this chronicle, whose relationships are obscured like puzzle pieces defying placement until studied from every angle. The multiple narrators' performances are powerful and are true to the ethnicity of their respective characters. Krauss's ( languid third novel, a haunted mystery brimming with lyrical details, is a National Book Award fiction finalist; her previous novel, The History of Love (2005)—also available from Recorded Books—won the William Saroyan International Prize. Essential. ["An intense and memorable reading experience," read the review of the New York Times best-selling Norton hc, LJ 8/10.—Ed.]—Judith Robinson, Dept. of Lib. & Information Studies, Univ. at Buffalo
Kirkus Reviews

A many-drawered writing desk resonates powerfully but for different reasons with the various characters in this novel about loss and retrieval from Krauss (The History of Love, 2005, etc.).

This brain-stretching novel travels back and forth across years and continents. In 1972 New York, a young novelist named Nadia spends one magical evening with a Chilean poet, Daniel, who then returns to Chile. Daniel leaves in her care a desk he claims belonged toFederico García Lorca. Shortly afterward, he dies at the hands of Pinochet's secret police. In 1999 a young woman named Leah announces to Nadia that she is Daniel's daughter and wants his desk returned. The reclusive Nadia lets Leah, who resembles Daniel, ship the desk to her home in Jerusalem but is emotionally devastated afterward—the desk represents her writing life. Her sense of herself as a woman and a writer deeply shaken, she decides to visit Jerusalem. Meanwhile in Jerusalem, a retired lawyer yearns to connect to his son Dovik, who has left his own legal career in England to move in with his father after his mother's funeral. Barely speaking, Dovik remains a frustrating mystery to his father. Back in 1970 in London, an Oxford professor finds his jealousy pricked when his wife Lotte, a writer and Holocaust survivor, gives her writing desk to the young poet Daniel, an admirer of her work. Only later, learning that Lotte gave up a baby for adoption before she married, does he realize that Daniel became a surrogate for her lost son. In 1998 in London, Leah is living with her brother when she goes to New York in search of the desk. While the disparate characters do not necessarily interact, their choices affect one another over the course of decades.

Brainy and often lyrically expressive, but also elusive and sometimes infuriatingly coy; Krauss is an acquired taste.

The Barnes & Noble Review

Nicole Krauss's third novel is a montage of four haunting human portraits, each so engrossing that the effect is of a spotlight switching from one character to another. The object that connects her disparate cast -- a magisterial desk that passes in and out of their lives -- serves to shuttle us back and forth through time and terrain, while providing a fulcrum upon which Krauss balances stories about the power of writing to anchor and also isolate those who devote themselves to it; the ebbs and flows of memory as it washes over a lifetime; and the tenderness and damage-dealing of the bonds between parents and children. As in her last novel, The History of Love, the Holocaust is a caul through which her Jewish characters perceive the world and their place in it, imbuing them with a deep, dislocating sadness.

In The History of Love, Krauss ingeniously used a lost-and-found book manuscript to bring together a grab-bag of characters. Great House employs a subtler device, the towering mahogany desk whose provenance is never revealed, and the connections between the characters are more oblique. After I finished the book I made a diagram so that I could comprehend the crosshatch of human and temporal relationships. But the mere co-existence of these characters, in Krauss's beautiful prose, is reason enough to read this marvelous book. Great House is a more sober work than The History of Love. It depends less on the deployment of eccentricities and antics, more on Krauss's astounding capacity for creating empathetic and fully imagined characters who, in the few pages allotted them, manage to relay the full spectrum of happiness, anguish, anxiety, self-doubt, and hope that has colored their lives .

The novel is divided into eight sections, each of which presents a confession of sorts. Only at the end of the book do many (and even then not all) of the attenuated connections among the storytellers become clear. We begin with Nadia, a writer in New York City, who inherits the aforementioned desk from a young Chilean poet before he returns to his home country and becomes one of the disappeared. From the moment the desk is delivered, it focuses her struggle to balance art and life: "I didn't want the movers to leave because I was afraid . . . of being left alone with the shadow it cast across the room. It was as if my apartment were suddenly plunged into silence, or as if the quality of the silence had changed, like the silence of an empty stage versus the silence of a stage on which someone has placed a single, gleaming instrument."

Eventually a woman appears who lays claim to the desk. Nadia relinquishes it, and her subsequent effort to reclaim it sets in motion a chain of events that will alter the lives of several characters in Israel, among them an antiques dealer painstakingly reassembling his father's study, whose contents were scattered throughout the world after the Nazi occupation of Budapest in 1944, and a father and son groping to reconnect after the death of their wife and mother. There are other characters with their tales to tell, too. Isabel, who loves the antiques dealer's son, seeks to wedge her way into the tight familial vise in which he and his sister are clasped by their father -- but to which they also acquiesce. And in England, Arthur Bender, the husband of a very private woman, begins to unravel her troubling past only after she slides into dementia. For years she sat at the same desk, writing the dark tales that made her reputation and saved her soul .

Krauss excels at incubating moments of human understanding -- epiphanies, if you will, though that word can suggest a cheap or easy realization, and Krauss's epiphanies feel organic and earned -- that resonate with readers as much as they do with her own fictional creations. Take the devastating moment when Arthur suddenly sees that his late wife's survival, of the Holocaust and then the life she made afterward, necessarily limited her capacity to love him. "Her self-sufficiency -- the proof she carried within her that she could withstand unthinkable tragedy on her own, that in fact the extreme solitude she had constructed around herself, reducing herself, folding in on herself, turning a silent scream into the weight of private work, was precisely what enabled her to withstand it -- made it impossible for her ever to need me as I needed her." Krauss's remarkable achievement with Great House is to atomize the essential isolation that is part of the human condition and reflect it back to us in a way that makes us feel a little less alone.

--Sarah L. Courteau

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393080360
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/6/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 289
  • Sales rank: 96,080
  • File size: 855 KB

Meet the Author

Nicole Krauss has been hailed by the New York Times as “one of America’s most important novelists.” She is the author of the international bestseller Great House, a finalist for the National Book Award, and Man Walks Into a Room. Her books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages.
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Table of Contents


All Rise 3

True Kindness 47

Swimming Holes 75

Lies Told by Children 109


True Kindness 171

All Rise 199

Swimming Holes 239

Weisz 283

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 196 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 199 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Extraordinary, illustive book!

    Frankly speaking, I found this book completely confusing in structure. The author does way too much skipping around in a disjointed manner..leaving the reader wondering who on earth she's talking about! It spoiled the reading experience for me! 'though I did find many redeeming points of interest and captivating characters midst the chaos.

    Ms Krauss had some moments of beautiful writing and clarity throughout her work. Her original concept of a desk that was a "house" unto itself and that linked several people and families in their writing and angst, was a "great" one. It just was so scattered in presentation that it missed being a fantastic novel. I kept trying to find another, personal connection between all of the characters, and thought I had, only to wonder about that at the end. It felt as if I should re-read the novel before I would really get that full connection and understanding of the characters before I could claim complete understanding of the novel. I didn't want to reread it!

    I'm very well-read, and I'm intelligent enough to know when a book doesn't quite hit the mark. Sadly, although the critics have touted "Great House" for its brilliance and esoteric singularity, I found it difficult and exasperating to read.

    I also became mind-boggled and frustrated by the author's switching from ordinary prose and descriptive writing to a sort of James Joyceian stream-of-consiousness at a couple of points. Again, it was irritating and disrupted the reader's train of thought.

    All in all, I would find it difficult to recommend this book to my friends or anyone. I gave it 4-stars only because when she hits it right, as I've said, Ms Krauss writes beautifully and with great heart, and gives life to her characters.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 26, 2010

    collection of short stories

    poetic emotional lovely chilling.... but less of a story more of a collection of unrelated peices. i kept waiting for it to tie together.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 26, 2011

    Please do not waste your time with this!!!

    I read this being thoroughly confused the whole way. Too many short stories that never connect trying to be one great big book. Most of the intertwining lives within this novel are never solved. You will not find any resolve, or satisfation at the end of this paperweight. I am sorry I wasted my money and time that I can never get back, on this GREAT big waste of time.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    With its winding, spinning narrative, Great House manages to pull you in, only to be pushed away with a firm hand later.

    I have mixed feelings about Great House. The story centers around a desk as it travels from owner to owner. To some, the desk is just a mere vessel to write letters at. To others, it is a more important piece, vital to the creative writing process. This wooden desk is quite unique, in that it contains 19 drawers which allow the owner to secret away little bits of life. Large and imposing, this desk seems to loom over its owners when they are in possession of it, and remind them of their past lives when it's gone. Krauss weaves in and out of different narratives going back and forth in time. The structure of the novel is quite complex and takes some time to get used to. It took many passes at reading the novel for me to get a feel for her style. I find this to be the case with most Literary Fiction, but with Great House, the extra effort didn't reward me in the way that I expected it would. The story fell flat and the some of the characters lacked depth. The one storyline that I was very taken with, is the one where Lotte's husband finds out that his wife has secrets. I was completely absorbed by that story, but with the weaving narrative, once you find yourself absorbed, you are then suddenly pushed back into a different narrative. This gave the novel a disjointed feeling. Not to say that the transitions weren't smooth, they were, but it's like watching a riveting TV show while your children are yapping incessantly at you. You simply want to go back to the story. not be pulled away from it and forced to look elsewhere. After re-reading the last third of the novel three times, I did experience the sense of loss that I felt the author was trying to convey. The desk becomes a Jewish symbol of survival and serves as a reminder of love and loss. The last third of the book is very powerful and thought-provoking but the novel as a whole felt a bit jagged around the edges. I didn't feel that the stories were fully explored and it left me with an empty, unfinished feeling. I read this for the 2010 Indie Lit Awards and although I do have some issues with how it was pieced together, I appreciate the complexity of the novel itself.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    "What is a Jew without Jerusalem?"

    The common thread woven through Great House is a commanding, wooden desk with nineteen drawers of different sizes, possessed by multiple owners, over decades. The desk becomes a Jewish symbol for loss, survival, and, ultimately, spiritual reconstruction. Each section in the book is a story within a story, at times confusing, but subsequently, Great House is a triumph!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I loved the way this book was written

    I loved the way this book was written. It is a glimpse of the lives of several people whose lives have been changed by owning or encountering someone who owned the desk. This is not an uplifting book but I thought the way Nicole Krauss put the words together was beautiful. As some have said in their reviews, it is not a story where everything comes together at the end and is wrapped up with a pretty little bow. I am glad that it wasn't I am always disappointed when authors do that.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2011

    Badly Disappointed

    I read so many good things about this book; I really wanted to like it. In the end, I had to force myself to finish it. There are many authors who use what I refer to as "the back and forth" method of telling a story. That is, going back and forth between the past and present to tell a story. Kate Morton is an excellent example of this. This story was similar except that to me it seemed very disjointed. In fact, it wasn't until some time after I'd finished the book that I figured out the interrelationship of the stories. I really had to work at this to make all the pieces fall into place. Some of the back stories seemed to be boring and not necessarily supportive of the main theme. And, some parts just seemed down right incredulous. A guy shows up at your door that you don't know, and after several more visits, you calmly hand over your favorite desk? Please! i was expecting a lot from this book, and I ended up with very little.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2011

    Incredible prose

    This book is incredibly written. I am an avid but very unemotional reader, and I got pretty emotional at several points. The characters all reveal great psychological truths about people and relationships.

    Several reviews express disappointment in the lack of a coherent story. This is true, but it is not the intention of the book to be a traditional novel with a linear plot. Get over it, because this book is awesome as soon as you do.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    I found this a difficult read. Someday I may re-read it to see if I understand it any better.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2013

    A pretty good book

    A good book, I found it hard to follow at first, but I stayed with it, and finished reading it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2013

    Full of surprises

    I'm still trying to figure out which one of the stories was created by the narrator to get out of her writer's block! I'm writing this review a couple of years after reading the book, and it continues to haunt and enchant me. --catwak

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  • Posted July 12, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This novel follows a similar point of view format that History o

    This novel follows a similar point of view format that History of Love did. It also goes to much darker places.

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  • Posted April 7, 2011

    Terrible Book

    This book was written with so many different character lives that did not contect, it was impossible to follow. At the end I still could not figure out the relationship between all of them. All I know is that the desk survived. I would not recommend this book at all. Terribly dissapointed.

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  • Posted April 2, 2011

    I don't even know what this book was about

    If I had bought the print version, I would have thrown it across the room. This is a sad, brooding, rambling kind of book. Took a long time to get to the point, to the meaning of "great house." The characters were contrived and weird, and the connections among them were vague. Bored me to tears. Didn't like it at all.

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  • Posted February 9, 2011

    Entertaining, Well-written, Thought Provoking

    This delicious novel which centers upon a mysterious desk and the people who have had possession of it over the years is a surprisingly delightful read. The ribbon that keeps these characters attached, that six degrees of separation, is a piece of furniture. It isn't often a book has an inanimate object as the central character. But Nicole Krauss makes that desk a STAR!

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  • Posted January 31, 2011


    Although the sample I had downloaded piqued my interest, when I read the whole book I found it lacking.
    The author has excellent character and scene descriptions, but the book seemed more like a group of inter-related short stories rather than a cohesive novel. I am not a fan of short story/novel combinations but nothing in the sample gave me an idea that this would be the case.
    Some of the relationships between the stories were drawn together neatly at the end but others were just left hanging.
    I got the distinct impression that the author had run out of time and had to complete the book before it was a finished work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2011

    A tough read on many fronts.

    From the beginning one needs to realize this is a group of shorts. Don't try to read a novel into this.

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  • Posted January 28, 2011

    Excellent Read

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2011

    If you are a fan of Krauss' writing, this is a must read

    Loved it!! Definitely a permeant fixture in my library. Love this author and her writing style. This was a perfect collection of short stories. Must read!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 199 Customer Reviews

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