Great House

Great House

by Nicole Krauss


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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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393340648
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/06/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 289
Sales rank: 405,253
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About 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 Man Walks Into a Room, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book of the Year; The History of Love, a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Saroyan Prize for International Literature; Great House, a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award; and Forest Dark. In 2007 she was selected as one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists, and in 2010 she was chosen for the New Yorker’s ‘Twenty Under Forty’ list. Her fiction has been published in the New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire, and Best American Short Stories, and her books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages. Nicole Krauss lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Great House 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 248 reviews.
Humbee More than 1 year ago
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.
mzery More than 1 year ago
poetic emotional lovely chilling.... but less of a story more of a collection of unrelated peices. i kept waiting for it to tie together.
moonmatrix More than 1 year ago
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.
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
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.
MiamiCyn More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good book, I found it hard to follow at first, but I stayed with it, and finished reading it.
gettin_picky More than 1 year ago
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.
books_nooks More than 1 year ago
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.
1Owlette on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Haunting, evocative but in some ways problematically opaque exploration of memory, trauma and loss, and the role which physical objects can play in these experiences.Perhaps like a previous reviewer, I was left uncertain as to whether the book -- memorable and moving -- at the same time constituted less than the sum of its parts, which if the case might be particularly appropriate to a novel dedicated to the subject of what is lost and missing, and the gaps and absences in people's lives. On the other hand, I personally was left feeling a little obtuse, as if, like the husband who narrates one strand of the novel, I too was left outside shivering and slightly blank outside a deep but unaccessed pool of content and secrets. This may well have been the intention, but at the same time did dilute the impact of an extraordinarily accomplished work, for me personally as a reader. Although engrossed and impressed at the time, Great House, over the following days, left less impression on me than I had expected. Nonetheless, a rich and extraordinary work.
Tinwara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The central -rather speechless - character of this novel is a desk. A giant desk. In the first chapter it arrives at the apartment of a New York novelist. Through the following chapters, or stories, we come to know of its past owners, its history, and its future. The desk is the connecting theme through the chapters/stories, that have their own protagonists, who seldom know each other. What I liked about this novel were the language used, the idea of a material object as a connecting thread and the structure of the story, that is far from chronological, and leaves much to the imagination of the reader. Still, strangely so, this novel has not made a lasting impression on me. Was it because the main characters were unsympathetic to me? (All of them!) Because there was only whining misery? I can't quite define what was the problem, but it seems to be one of those novel that quickly evaporates from my memory.
JolieB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A weighty tale, beautifully written and ¿ like the lives it describes ¿ unresolved. The story follows the tale of a mammoth desk. In some it takes up space, in others it looms with importance. In still others its a prize, a toy, a chess piece. But in the end, the desk holds the same thing as the other large and unexplored elements that take up space in our lives ¿ nothing. Only read this one when your ready to think deeply.
bookczuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Made it to page 180 before I abandoned this book. Everyone was just so miserable, that even had this been the absolute best writing in the world, it wouldn't have saved it for me. Even Pandora got a little bit of hope in the bottom of the chest of troubles. So far, Kraus has had one home run for me (The History of Love) one where the book got walked to first base, and this one, which struck out in 3. I think it's time to remove the "favorite author" tag.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just could not get into this book......
kenkarpay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A desk that is passed along is the center-piece of this engaging novel. "The Red Violin"-like. Wonderful writing.
chrystal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. The characters are vivid and intense. I have a precise picture of each face, each house and each apartment Trying to connect the monologues and each persons connection to an ominous desk kept me intrigued, but no more so than the actual voices and stories of the characters. I may have to draw a picture of the desk tonight, or I won't be able to sleep. Has anyone else drawn a picture??
suesbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved the writing in this book, but i certainly was not able to understand many of the metaphors. i read that krauss stated that the mammoth, disappearing, loved desk represented literature, so i will try to see where that takes me. i feel this is an important book that always forced me to think.
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great House is now the second book by Nicole Krauss that I¿ve read, having previously read The History of Love. I continue to be impressed by this author¿s writing. In Great House, Nicole Kraus explores many ideas in labyrinthine and mysterious ways through beautifully crafted individual stories woven into a greater whole. The thread which we know will connect these stories is a multi-drawered antique desk, believed to have once been owned by Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. We also figure out that the individual stories will have some connection with one another so we read with careful eye to catch whatever those links might be. Not only is this novel superbly plotted, but also the writing is gorgeous.Novels that take a bit of work such as this one often have me complaining. This book, however, did not leave me time to do so as I was completely captivated page after page. Having lived in Israel in the 1970¿s, I knew the Jerusalem of that time. I also was well aware of the concurrent turbulence in Chile and the protests of young Jewish South Americans. I could have jumped into this book and befriended its characters. I also know what it feels like to be older and look back at that time. You could say I lived this story. The only thing that was missing is that, while living in Israel, I did not have that wonderful desk! There is one part of the story that had me laughing out loud (although there is no humor per se in the story). I was listening to an audio version of this novel, and found that there were a few lines in Hebrew. The lines were supposed to have been said in a European-accented Hebrew. The accent was *distinctly* American! I had to replay those lines a few times just for the laughs. I¿m thoroughly glad that the author was rewarded with an Orange Prize nomination, a well-deserved kudo for this wonderful book. For sure, I¿ll be greatly anticipating future novels by this talented writer.
Bellettres on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Too confusing to be anything close to a favorite, but Nicole Krauss certainly does know how to use language to evoke a variety of feelings, memories, and experiences. Just couldn't warm up to the characters or their stories.
jennyo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I asked for a copy of this book because I absolutely adored Krauss' The History of Love. And I tried to approach this book as a totally new work, but I think I failed miserably because all I kept thinking was, "This isn't The History of Love."Don't get me wrong, this is a beautifully written book. It's descriptive, contemplative, almost dreamy in a way. Poetic, I guess would be a good way to describe it. But I never got involved with the characters. Maybe because the first one we meet is one who can't seem to share herself at all.But I think the reason this book never really grabbed me is that it's sad. All the time. And not just a little. It tears your heart up. The History of Love was deeply sad too, but there was joy there. I never felt joy in this book. Even where there was love, there was hopelessness and grief.I probably won't gush about this book to my friends. I will share it with others who have read Krauss' other works to see what they think. It'll be interesting to see if they have the same reaction I did. And I will try Krauss' next book too. Mainly because of paragraphs like this one:"I've always liked the feeling of traveling light; there is something in me that wants to feel I could leave wherever I am, at any time, without effort. The idea of being weighed down made me uneasy, as if I lived on the surface of a frozen lake and each new trapping of domestic life--a pot, a chair, a lamp--threatened to be the thing that sent me through the ice. The only exception was books, which I acquired freely, because I never really felt they belonged to me. Because of this, I never felt compelled to finish those I didn't like, or even a pressure to like them at all. But a certain lack of responsibility also left me free to be affected. When at last I came across the right book, the feeling was violent: it blew open a hole in me that made life more dangerous because I couldn't control what came through it."Good stuff.
bc104 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a 2010 National Book Award finalist that I just couldn't bring myself to love. There is a sense of satisfaction in putting together the stories which revolve around a looming massive desk with many drawers. I just felt that the individual stories were not that satisfying on their own.
berthirsch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great House by Nicole KraussAn Israeli widower attempts to reunite with a distant son. A writer in New York babysits a desk which becomes a magical talisman, a muse, until a foreign daughter comes to reclaim the desk as her birthright. A brother and sister, close as lovers, grow up from city to city, in apartments populated by antiques that their Israeli father, a Holocaust survivor trades in. What all these people have in common is that they live with the big haunting desk that takes up more than space.The reader gets lost along the way trying to pick up all the threads but once I completed the book and reflected on its meanings I believe this effect is not wholly unintended. Indeed a major theme of this novel is loss, up- rootedness and the Jewish experience in the Diaspora. Indeed as the novel comes to an end, mysteries and tragedies are revealed but not all the loose ends are resolved.Having read her last book, A History of Love, I was mildly disappointed. In that book, the characters were more fully realized and, as a reader, I cared more about them and the plot was easier to follow. Having said that, Great House is worth reading for its mysterious, haunting qualities.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A repository for human sadnessI read The History of Love back in 2006. That was the beginning of my crush on Nicole Krauss. After that, I back-tracked and read her almost-as-delightful debut novel, Man Walks into a Room. Suffice it to say, I¿ve been looking forward to Great House for a long time. Truthfully, this latest novel is my least favorite of the three. You¿ll note that I still awarded it five stars. I don¿t think Nicole Krauss is capable of publishing a novel worth less than five stars. Her writing is gorgeous. And her insight into complex emotional lives is dazzling. It¿s not that Great House isn¿t, well, great, but it is challenging.If you flip through the pages of the book, you¿ll notice something right away. The text is dense. There is virtually no white space on the pages, just long, almost unbroken paragraphs that make up a series of monologues. Or perhaps ¿confessions¿ is the more accurate word. The novel is structured in two parts. Each of those parts is comprised of four lengthy monologues¿with the exception of the novel¿s powerful final pages.The book opens with 50-something Nadia, a solitary novelist living in New York. She is explaining her life to someone she addresses as ¿Your Honor.¿ Next we are with Aaron, an elderly Israeli reflecting upon the death of his beloved wife and his strained relationship with his son, Dov. Next is Arthur Bender¿British and proper, the insecure husband of Holocaust survivor Lotte Berg, a woman with secrets. And finally we hear from Izzy, the youngest and sexiest of the narrators. Izzy is recounting a very slightly surreal love affair. In the second portion of the book, we spend some time with each of them again.There is much talk amongst readers about a desk being the object that connects these diverse characters through distance and time. That¿s not actually true. There are connections of varying subtlety, and the desk is one part of what connects some, but not all, of these characters. As Lance Armstrong might say, ¿It¿s not about the desk.¿ It¿s not even about the connections, really. Or, at least, I don¿t believe that¿s the point. I got to know these characters reading Great House. I learned what propelled them, who they loved, what made them hurt. Especially what made them hurt, because there¿s a lot of pain and sorrow and regret in these pages. These narrators are not cute, not joyful, and often not even very likeable. Nadia describes herself as ¿a person who was always falling through the ice, who had the opposite effect on others, immediately making them raise their hackles, as if they sensed their shins might be kicked.¿ And just as I began to warm to Aaron, it became clear that he was something of a monster. These are confessions. They are at times difficult to read. You won¿t always understand the actions of the characters, but you will believe them. And you will feel their pain and the power of their stories and the beauty of Nicole Krauss¿s words.
alaskabookworm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There¿s not much I can add to what other reviewers have so eloquently written about Nicole Krauss¿s brilliant new novel, Great House. This is a very densely written and structurally complex book; its symbols and imagery are subtly but tightly woven into the novel¿s fabric.Great House is an exploration of the Jewish Diaspora. There are several story-threads, each of which is loosely connected. The characters are finely drawn examinations of isolation, exile, and grief; each character¿s story is told as a sort of a self-contained confessional. I couldn¿t help but think: this is a story for introverts about introverts. You notice as you read this book, that many of Krauss¿s characters are writers: poets, novelists, historians, or writer-wannabes. The mental footwork of understanding the places where the individual story-threads and characters connect is left largely to the reader with a maze of ¿bread crumbs¿ scattered throughout the narratives. This is what is both most satisfying and challenging about reading Great House. Each page is chock full of meaningful fragments; enough hints and illuminations scatter throughout the book that an entire picture emerges.I was just as baffled (though also intrigued and enchanted) as many other readers seemed to be with the complexities found in Great House. One thing I¿m sure of: Krauss has written a book that she does not intend to be simply read. She has no intention of spoon-feeding her reader. What she has crafted here, is a story whose ideas need to be chewed and gnawed on and digested. Great House is a book that should be read carefully and meditatively, studied and pondered. It should probably be read more than once. However, in spite of Krauss¿s masterful prose and puzzle-like storyline, her devices might not be enough to sustain this story as an enduring literary work. For about a day after I finished Great House, I thought about it a lot. Krauss¿s prose is beautiful and immensely quotable. I enjoyed that so many of her characters were introverts; as one myself, I experienced a lovely sense of being understood as a person. I thought she did an interesting, though limited, job exploring the complexities of intimate relationships; loss and grief. I spent time thinking about how all the plots and characters fit together. Now, a week out, I¿m not sure what¿s left. When it comes right down to it, not much of the story really sunk below the surface; I don¿t think it¿s a book that will stick with me for the long term.
smcbeth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I read the blurbs on this book the idea of a desk connecting different people reminded me of Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book, which I loved. But Great House is sad, forlorn, painful all the way through. No respite. However, the insight into the human experience and the beautiful writing (really poetry) makes it worthwhile. I'm glad I read it for her beautiful talent, and I respected it and appreciated it, but I never fell in love. Or so I thought. The characters still haunt me. The damage of the Holocaust doesn't just effect that generation, but lives on in it's progeny on and on and on. I think I might have fallen in love afterall.