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 to Federico 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.