Sunday, February 27, 2011

Can a computer be smart or can it only be programmed to act that way? (Books - Final Jeopardy by Stephen Baker)

Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Maching and the Quest to know Everything concerns itself with the stunt planned by IBM to program a computer to play Jeopardy against human contestants. But Stephen Baker’s swift moving book doesn’t merely reveal backstage gossip like why the computer was named Watson or who designed his 'face,' the real reason to read this book is the story Baker tells about the nature of intelligence and whether machines can possess and use it.

 Baker, as IBM did, used the contest as a scaffold. For IBM this narrowed the scope of their research and imposed a schedule. For Baker it lent his narrative thrust toward a conspicuous end. It's almost a shame that we know the outcome, the contest having already been aired, but Baker writes well enough to squeeze suspense out of the story by connecting us to the stakes experienced by scientist David Ferrucci, and his team of programmers, designers, former Jeopardy contestants, and, of course, the public relations armies for IBM and Jeopardy.

I enjoyed Baker's lay-descriptions of the evolution of computing machines and how they differ from human brains: what kind of knowledge goes into them, what sorts of computations can be expected of them, what kinds of mistakes they make, how computers can learn and how we, in turn, can learn about the nature of intelligence through the exercise of programming them to do so.

For certain types of questions, Ferrucci said, a search engine could come up with answers. These were simple sentences with concrete results, what he and his team called factoids. For example: "What is the tallest mountain in Africa?" A search engine would pick out the three key words from that sentence and in a fraction of a second suggest Kenya's 19,340-foot-high Kilimanjaro. This worked, Ferrucci said, for about 30 percent of Jeopardy questions. But performance at that low level would condemn Watson to defeat at the hands of human amateurs.

Baker is adept at explaining how fact-based knowledge can be stored in and retrieved from the neural networks of the human brain. Key to his story about so-called artificial intelligence, he makes clear the difference between designing a machine that actually performs the steps of human-like cognitive processes in a silicon medium rather than an organic one versus one that looks as though it is problem-solving like a person, but is actually coming up with the answer via different processes.

Equally interesting was the discussion Baker's book provokes about what knowledge is for. This highlights the poverty of Ferrucci's tightly-focused imagination.
"You can probably fit all the books that are on sale on about two terabytes that you can buy at OfficeMax for a couple of hundred dollars. You get every book. Every. Single. Book. Now what do you do? You can't read them all! What I want the computer to do," he went on, "is to read them for me and tell me what they're about, and answer my questions about them. I want this for all information. I want machines to read, understand, summarize, describe the themes, and do the analysis so that I can take advantage of all the knowledge that's out there. We human's need help. I know I do!" 
Actually, you can't get all the information period, and the best computer can't either, so calm down, David. Knowledge is not just possessing facts, nor is it analyzing them. Analysis takes place at multiple levels. Merely determining which units within a narrative are the facts is itself analysis. And just what are facts: what are the facts of Oliver Twist, for example? Is Fagin a fact? Is the theft of a pocket handkerchief a fact? Is “some more?” Facts and the juicy stuff that can be derived from them are determined by an intersection with the point-of-view of the individual using them.

To be fair, Ferrucci understands these limitations and his project embraces the challenge of finding a solution. Ultimately, the machines that we can imagine now will likely be better at generating lists for hypothesis development than they will be at making inferential leaps. The gains made in problem solving by sudden departures from the knowledge tree or standard method are legendary - that's the 'creative' part of creative problem solving and is the very stuff of the creative leap that so often precedes a solution.

Other scientists, such as Joshua Tenebaum at MIT think that one day computers will generate concepts and make inductive leaps, but that is hard to imagine reading Baker’s account of parsing the words of a single Jeopardy question well enough to determine the category of knowledge to search (let alone to answer it). A great deal more than computing speed is necessary before computers can accurately comprehend human emotion, make inferences, and take control from their inventors like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Tenenbaum said it best:

"If you want to compare [artificial intelligence] to the space program, we're at Galileo," Tenenbaum said. "We're not yet at Newton." 
Baker's book is thoughtful, informative, and really amusing, without being pseudo-science. I'm passing my copy along to my Uncle who was a contestant on Jeopardy in the 1970s. I think he should get a kick out of it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tellings stories to keep a son alive (Books - To the End of the Land by David Grossman)

When Ora's son Ofer decides to stay beyond his required military service in the Israeli army to serve in an important military mission rather than hike with her in the Galilee, Ora feels hurt and deserted. She commandeers Avram, her husband's best friend and her old love, who has been living on the fringes since his capture and torture in the Yom Kippur War, to hike with her in a desperate act of avoidance. If she is not there to receive the news that Ofer has been killed, she reasons, he is not dead. She can indefinitely keep him alive by telling the stories of Ofer, his brother Adam, his father Ilan, and herself, to Avram. This is story telling as an act of defense. People approached with love are bottomless, says David Grossman's powerful new novel To the End of the Land, no matter how much you know, there is still more. This act of desperate story telling doubles as an act of intimacy, because Avram has missed out on Ofer's childhood, refusing to see him even though he is actually Ofer's father.
Thousands of moments and hours and days, millions of deeds, countless actions and attempts and mistakes and words and thoughts, all to make one person in the world.

She reads it to Avram.

"He'll be fine, you'll see. We're making it so he'll be fine."


"One person, who is so easy to destroy. Write that."

He writes.
This book, in some ways, is nothing more than the act of trying to capture a life, hold it still so one can appreciate its beauty, yet those things that make it most beautiful aren't there when you hold them still. Grossman captures both the sweetness and regret which, for Ora turns to loss, when Ofer returns to the army. He writes with directness that is visceral, delicate, and complex.
Two decades earlier, in the garden at night, in the middle of hanging up the boys' clothes, Ilan had walked through the crowded lines and hugged her, and they had both rocked together, entangled in the damp laundry, laughing softly, sighing lovingly, and Ilan had whispered in her ear, "Isn't it, Orinkah? Isn't it the fullness of life?" She had hugged him as hard as she could, with a salty happiness pulsing in her throat and had felt that for one fleeting moment she had caught it as it rushed through her, the secret of the fruitful years, their tidal motion, and their blessing in her body and his, and in their two little children and in the house they had built for themselves, and in their love, which finally, after years of wandering and hesitating, and after the blow of Avram's tragedy, was now, it seemed, standing up on its own two feet.
At the same time, Ora and Avram, walk a trail that circumnavigates their country, acquiring a knowledge of their country which neither of them had had before. Grossman does not makes this Israel a symbolic or one-sided representation, it includes Jew and Palestinian,peacenik, military zealot, and those who are ambivalent and tormented by guilt . The others they encounter on the trail - the hippy guru and his followers, a widowed Dr. interviewing each person he meets on the trail, and particularly the wild dog which ends up becoming subdued as she follows them, give the tail a classic epic quality. The dog, particularly, seemed almost the mirror spirit of Ora herself - from wild to domestic, as Ora profresses from domestic to wild.

We come to know all the characters in To the End of the Land deeply and richly. Many others have written about the monumental creation of Ora, comparing her to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, so I thought I would focus my thoughts on Avram, also a strikingly well-written, uncliched character, who strongly evoked a few intensely creative misfits I have known in my life. He seemed a creative act of love and I wondered of his origins. Admirable and pitiable. A deeply original spirit, instilling the love of others, but not because he is physically attractive. Rather because he is prolific, brilliant, playful, but also deeply afraid, childish, demanding, his brilliance finally holding others at a distance.
"Even before Ofer was born, ever since the war, since you came back, I've lived with the feeling that I'm always being watched by you."

There. She'd told him what for years had embittered and sweetened her life at the same time.

"Watched how?"

"In your thoughts, in your eyes, I don't know. Watched."

There were days - but of course she will not tell him this, not now - when she felt that at each and every moment, from the second she opened her eyes in the morning, through every motion she made, every laugh she laughed, when she walked and when she lay in bed with Ilan, she was acting a part in his play, in some made sketch was writing. And that she was acting for him perhaps more than for herself.

"What is there to understand here?" She stops and suddenly turns around and unwillingly hurls at him: "It's something Ilan and I felt all the time, all those years - that we were acting out a play on your stage."
This is a potent scene, perhaps the one that stayed with me most even after nearly 600 pages of text. In some ways, Avram took on the spirit of Israel in the book - an alluring, inspiring presence that elicits the passion of others, but also consumes them to protect itself.

It is impossible to read David Grossman's To the End of the Land now without knowing that, while writing it, his son Uri was killed while doing his military service. In some ways To the End of the Land is a deeply political work. Born of grief and anger at continued aggression as the only solution. There is a particularly memorable segment in the book that struck me as arising from the madness of grief. Set around a series of bus bombings, Ora compulsively rides the buses, trying to fit herself into the head (perhaps) of a bomber.

However, despite its length and sweep, and its complex reckoning with the legacy of war upon which the existence of that nation (some say) survives, Grossman's book finally treats Israel as a character, and in so doing becomes an intimate work. One about the struggle to encompass the complexity of others deeply.

Here is my other post about To the End of the Land.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The 3 faces of Shirin (Irianian Film Blogathon)

Shirin is a 12th-century poem of the Persian people, telling of the great love of King Khosrow for the Armenian princess Shirin. Some see it as a tale of her sacrifice, as she agrees to marry Khosrow despite her love for Farhad, an artist. As the king has banished him, one could also see it as her submission, or alternatively perhaps his genuine success at wooing her through valiant acts. The great Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami's unusual 2008 film of Shirin does not show actors enacting the characters and plot of the poem, it rather collects the great actresses of Iran (plus Juiliette Binoche) in a movie theatre to watch one of the many film adaptations of Shirin. The film is a series of lingering and luxurious close-ups on the actresses, reacting to the film as we hear its sound track. We see them watch, many of them with an exquisite relaxed privacy, as they concentrate quietly on the well-known story, then gasp, then smile, then weep. One feels, at times, that we are getting demonstrations of that rare commodity in acting referred to as 'being private in public,' as each woman seems to experience the story for herself in the darkened theatre.

When I watched the film this summer, I thought first that I was seeing an experimental film about women whose individual experiences of Persian pride or romantic longing are subdued by a repressive regime, only to be let out in the dark of the theatre. This was an homage to the artistic roots of the Persian people and the freedom woman once had to be themselves. But is that really what I was seeing? Then I watched a documentary on the making of Shirin and learned that the actresses were each shot alone in a couple of theatre seats watching some ideal movie in their mind's eyes as Kiarostami whispered directions to them between takes. He spliced their individual sessions together later. At first I felt had. Kiarostami first manipulated his actresses. Whipped them into whatever state he wanted through private means, and then he sicced them on me, with a film that has no meaning for me playing in the background, to make me believe they happened together. However, I directed actors for years, using whatever means I wanted to end up with behavior or relationships that created an experience for the audience. In the end, it was hard to get too resentful of Kiarostami for using whatever means he had to make the art he wanted. So what, then, was I watching?

Shirin then became for me the ultimate exercise in artifice. I was allowed to see the results of each actress's very private story, not knowing what it was, but experiencing it used in the context of this national story. One could say this was each artist's own private Persia (Iran). In this film I watched many actresses I didn't know have private fantasies. The lingering concentration on their secret inner stories had a certain beauty, but it was ultimately a little precious. Despite my love for acting and for individual narratives, I was not interested in watching it again. But then Sheila created the Iranian Film Blogathon and I was forced to think about the film again, this time in light of film director Jafar Panashi's 6-year prison sentence and the repression of his voice for the next 20 years. In this context, Shirin again became something else.

Now Shirin became a meditation on individualism. Each woman's face was a voice. Each voice was silent outside, but in the darkened theatre they were free to sing their private songs. Now I loved knowing of their manipulation because I was aware how private their inner content really was. It could, in fact, have nothing to do with Shirin. And in light of that it was unrepressable. Kiarostami himself could tell them whatever he wanted, but Juliette Binoche or Hedye Tehrani were free to remember their first kiss or think of what they would have for dinner that evening. This was more like going to a gallery than a film, I became more aware of what I was bringing to the story (although I had brought something before - I had brought along my slightly judgmental artist-self - but I wasn't aware of that context, nor did I get absorbed enough in the film to shed it). Now, half in touch with my own life the whole time, I looked deeply into a face sometimes, drifted off at others. I looked at one face while remembering another. Then I dipped into my own private memory. It's the way I look at paintings or photographs. This time I came to the film with a mission to speak out on behalf of the silenced voice of a fellow artist. I'd like to think, perhaps, that that motivated state is a little closer to what it it's like to watch the film as an Iranian (although I am surely exaggerating the similarity as my circumstances are far safer and more comfortable). Now the layers of narrative - the epic poem's, Kiarostami's, the actress's, my own personal and political - interacted: the historical facts of the poem, the mundane tangible realities of making and attending an art film, the psychological reality of the woman as actress, and then as the character of "audience member," the psychological reality of myself as another audience member, the private thoughts and fantasies I brought to viewing the film. No wonder dictatorships fear artists - religious dictatorships even more so - they would like to dictate each citizen's inner content: their morals, their symbols. The complexity of the contributions meeting in this film is uncontrollable. And this film of women's faces is a powerful protest in a culture in which so many women are silenced by the wearing of the veil. Shirin now became a protest film because its about the kind of speaking-out that it much harder to stop. Granted, imprisonment is stopping Panashi's film output, but it is not necessarily stopping his thoughts, nor is it stopping the many other like-minded souls giving their individual thoughts a voice, even if they are currently just thinking those thoughts to themselves in the darkness of a theatre.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Required reading for xenophobes (Books - The Arrival by Shaun Tan)

Shaun Tan, an Autstralian artist, and a prolific author of picture books, created The Arrival, a graphic novel which beautifully evokes the mystery, terror, and wonder of moving to a new country after having to leave the land of your origin due to persecution. The immigrant experience is ubiquitous to every family if you are American (or Australian, or Canadian) and not of an indigenous people, and in those countries, this means the majority of us. The book's sepia-toned illustrations combine the look of old photos and leather suitcases with a worn, warm sense that this story happened in the not-too-distant-past. It's Seussian cyberpunk machinery and musical instruments have a not-too-distant-in-the-future feel to them, as if to place the story out of time, reminding the reader that people are still immigrating and will continue to do so. The architecture has a place-less urban feel to it, so that this story is about anywhere. Most effective to the sense of mystery experienced by the are the strange animals and especially the fact that documents, signs, money, and newspapers are printed in an unfamiliar alphabet. This renders the story a completely graphic one for the reader not only because Shuan Tan writes graphic novels, but because the experience of the new arrival to a country where you don't know the language is disorientation. All of life must be experienced graphically, rather than via written or spoken language. The form of The Arrival is ideally suited to its content in creating not just a story, but an experience, one that is engaging, inventive, and touching. And it is a beautifully produced object to boot.

Every age in which countries experience strife, a certain part of the populace is going to blame what they lack on new arrivals and write laws to inconvenience them or build walls to keep them out. The Arrival should be required reading for them. Anyone want to purchase this book for a few folks down in Arizona?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Before the narrow, dark tunnel that is trying to complete a Ph.D., the breadth of my interests used to be more regularly reflected in what I wrote about here. Posts on film, theatre, and opera, weekly posts on science, on poetry and poets, the occasional recipe and wine recommendation, and periodic appreciations of other bloggers' posts, participation in weekly memes, and yearly reading challenges, talk about upcoming events in my fabulous city, the literary world, or the blogosphere. I have had to narrow the field a little of late and focus more single-mindedly on what I'm reading. But I am never one to wear blinders.

My dear friend and fellow blogger Sheila is a film appreciator and critic, an avid reader of history, particularly of the area encompasing Eastern Europe, Eurasia (the 'stans), and the Middle East (think the Ottoman Empire) , and a crack writer, is incensed by Iran's imprisonment of their great film directors, Jafar Panahi and Mohammed Rasoulof, and has decided to host an Iranian Film Blogathon next week. I, for one, am participating. Consider joining Sheila, myself, and the many others who will be viewing and writing on Iranian film (no experience necessary, see Sheila's comment), or stopping by the sites that have and reading about it.

On 20 December 2010 Panahi, after being prosecuted for “assembly and colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic,” was sentenced to six years in jail and subjected to a 20-year ban on making any movies, writing screenplays, giving any form of interview with Iranian or foreign media, and leaving his country. Rasoulof received a similar sentence.

Hundreds of filmmakers, critics, writers, actors, producers, and several human rights organizations and government representatives have been vocal in their opposition to his imprisonment. Many individual gestures, such as Sheila's, this one at The Tarpeian Rock, and his inspiration at Audiovisual Salvage, are attempting to raise awareness. I love the chain-like succession of gestures that has evolved into this blogothon, like fire catching from a tinder. Pass it on!

Or go catch a film by Panahi or Rasoulof at the Asia Society's tribute running from February 25 - March 11 at:

Film Series: A Tribute to Iranian Filmmaker Jafar Panahi

Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021

Pass it on.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We're a work in progress...

Carl Zimmer has an excellent post today on George Williams, a little known evolutionary biologist who made some important additions to our understanding of the mechanisms of natural selection.
Many scientists believed, for example, that natural selection often produced adaptations that benefited entire groups.Why did animals get old and die, for example? Why didn’t animals just keep humming along until they were killed by a predator or a pathogen? Death had to be good for something, and one popular idea was that death benefited entire groups of animals. By dying, older individuals stepped out of the way for younger ones.

One day, Williams heard this idea for the umpteenth time,during a lecture by a renowned ecologist named A.E. Emerson. “My reaction was that if Emerson’s presentation was acceptable biology, I would prefer another calling,” he later wrote.

Check out the post for more.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Complex worlds, simple means (Books - Complex Worlds from Simpler Nervous Systems & To the End of the Land by David Grossman)

Given that classes have started up and the books I'm reading are all on the large side, I haven't finished anything this week, but I noted a common theme in the reading that is consuming my interest.

Frederick Prete, Ph.D. has edited Complex Worlds from Simpler Nervous Systems (MIT Press, 2004), a collection of the writings of scientists who study how creatures with much smaller nervous systems than our own perform what we think of as complex cognitive functions. The Portia spider, for example, whose brain is literally the size of a pin, can filter out extraneous sensory information from among the plentiful array of moving and still things that are the surrounding forest, to focus in on a single speck that is its prey. Over the course of 20 minutes, although its prey is quite close, Portia can plot a detour so that it will not be caught stalking it. The nervous systems of insects were, until the 1970s, thought of as no more than basic reflex machines. Yet this process could be seen as involving planning, decision making, and delayed gratification - processes we would more commonly associate with vertebrates. Another chapter explores how honeybees can apply abstract properties to novel circumstances. Neuroscientist Michael Land writes:
My favorite example of sensory simplification is the technique that fiddler crabs use to distinguish predators (requiring escape) from conspecifics (which can be fought, mated, or ignored). Instead of identifying predators (usually birds) from their form (beak, legs, etc.), all the fiddler crab has to ask is "Does this moving object intersect the horizon?" Since a line joining the crab's eye to the horizon is at crab height, anything above this is bigger than the crab, and so is probably bad news. Anything below the line is, at least, not life threatening. Simple though this is, it does require the crab to keep its elongated eye accurately aligned with the horizon, and for this it uses both visual and statocyst [invertebrate balance organs] reflexes.
Nature has evolved many ways for creatures to accomplish complex behaviors that are not dependent on the combinatory possibilities afforded our species with its billions of neurons. While that volume of cells allows us infinitely more options for interrupting and modify processes, I doubt that spiders become neurotic. This book offers a fascinating collection of such examples written at a high level of detail (so you have to really want to dive in) but at a moderate level of technicality (i.e., its not as complex as a scientific journal article). The prose is accessible, at times even entertaining.

David Grossman's To The End Of The Land has me utterly absorbed. It is a book of great human depth written with an astonishingly simple structure, a small number of central characters, and a single action propels the whole complex creation. There's that parallel I was speaking of. Three teenage patients meet while ill in the hospital during the 1967 war in Israel - one woman: Ora, and two men Ilan (good looking and ordinary), and Avram (a person of magnetic and dazzling originality). Ilan and Ora marry, having two sons - Adam and Ofer. This creates two overlapping triangles, both with Ora at their apex and two men at their base (two her lovers, and two her sons).

The present time frame of the narrative is another war for which Ora's son Ofer volunteers to extend his compulsory military service rather that go on a hiking trip with Ora in the Galilee. Ora, fearing his death, comandeers Avram, from whom she has been estranged, to go on the hike with her as a way to escape the news reports and the long wait to find out if Ofer survives. The single action of the novel, embodied in the hike, is a desperate act of memory during which Ora uses interior as well as exterior narrative to prolong Ofer's life. Grossman's narrative is intimate in that come to know the very souls of Ora and Avram, and epic in its sweep across the decades that have encompassed Ora's and Avram's lives and the geographical space that is Israel. It is work of deep human feeling; long, but not longer than the action of the story seems to require, and confidently paced so that I have no desire to leave, only to know more.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

An old soul's compassion for the longing of others and a great desk (Books - Great House by Nicole Krauss)

I am a big fan of Nicole Krauss's The History of Love. Reading it catapulted me into reading something else of her's immediately, so taken was I with the distinct narrators she created in that book, and the thread of intense longing that ran through it. Great House is a group of interconnected stories whose point in common is a huge desk whose presence or absence in the characters' lives is as hulking as it is indelible. The desk has had many owner's - it makes its way from a German Jewish refugee who becomes an English writer, to a Chilean poet who is eventually a victim of Pinochet's killings, to a lost and lonely writer in New York, to a Hungarian Jew transplanted to Israel who deals in restoring to the original owners the furniture plundered by the Nazis. So its narrative is long, the path twisted and sometimes obscured, it is touched by many lives. The desk also has many drawers, so many that its contents are unknowable. This desk is Peer Gynt, the title character of the great Ibsen play, who likens himself to an onion. He peels away layer after layer of himself only to find more and more beneath. He finds he has no one kernel, no single essence that is Peer. This desk in its size and its unknowability is an intriguing metaphor for the way the characters in the Great House strive to know one other person, a person for whom they feel powerfully and yet cannot fully know. The desk is a surface upon which narratives are created, yet we cannot look within. Sometimes one person cannot know another because one vanishes before the other can reach out. Sometimes there is a wall between them due to a wound or a regret. Sometimes a person insists on being unknowable. And just because we love and want to know them does not mean that they can or will reveal their secrets. Sometimes they cannot even reveal those secrets to themselves. What do you think think keeps psychologists in business? And novelists. Krauss's desk could be a gimmick, but it doesn't feel that way. It is more a meeting place of narratives. The narratives of people who long to know another and the loss they feel at never fully achieving that intimacy. Our witnessing their meeting is a beautiful, sad, and mysterious reading experience.

Great House is a more unruly, more jagged, less fully complete work that the neat entertainment provided by The History of Love. The four narrators have distinct voices, as in the first book. Three of the chief characters are older, Krauss seems an acutely sensitive ventriloquist when it comes to the minds and souls of characters who have lived many years longer than she. The four stories are broken in half, each of them interrupted and then completed (after a fashion) in the second half. This felt somewhat arbitrary. In one case, I had a hard time remembering the details and was irritated at having to go back. I know that Krauss wanted to four narrative lines to work together as a whole and wanted us to sustain interest across them so that they yielded their final fruits together, but I am not sure this completely works. In one case, the narrator speaks to an unknown judge of some sort, addressing him as "your honor." This technique I found very intriguing. As I got to know more and more of the story behind this narrative, I had to wonder who was judging her and for what crime. This piqued my curiosity, pulling me through to the end. The story of the English author was told by her widowed husband, who only learns secrets about his somewhat reticent wife very late in their lives. This story contains stories within stories. So many, in fact, that I sometimes forgot where I started. I found this distanced me from the emotion of the man's disappointment at not being allowed to know his wife as intimately as he would have wished. Yet this was convincingly justified in his retiring and academic English character. The most intriguing of the stories was Lies Told by Children. In it the Hungarian Jewish refugee combs the world looking for looted furniture and objets d'art as his two brilliant and eccentric children live in a London house with overgrown vines. It had a gothic and twisted feel and makes me curious to see Krauss attempt a longer fictional work with similar younger characters. The most touching of the lot, was True Kindness, the story of another widower, an Israeli, who in his struggle to not be a sentimental or weak parent to his sensitive son has created an unbridgeable distance between them as adults. I deeply appreciated and enjoyed the individual worlds and their related themes. In fact, I might have appreciated their collective presence even more without the attempt to sum them all up in the somewhat oblique and elegiac couple of pages that conclude Great House. But regardless, I am left with the impression that Nicole Krauss is possessed of a fertile imagination and an old soul's compassion for the longing of others that she translates with precise and poignant writing into books of great beauty, books that I will look forward to reading. Here is an interview with her.