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  • An Interview with Nicole Krauss
  • Brett Ashley Kaplan (bio)

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Photo courtesy of Goni Riskin NICOLE KRAUSS

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Nicole Krauss is the author of four striking, award-winning novels: Man Walks into a Room (2002), The History of Love (2005), Great House (2010), and Forest Dark (2017). To Be a Man, her first collection of short stories, came out in November 2020. Her inventive, subtle writing has earned numerous distinctions such as winning the Orange Prize and the Saroyan Prize for International Literature. Her novels have been finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award and to date have been translated into more than thirty-five languages. Scholars including Victoria Aarons, Alan L. Berger, Dean Franco, David Hadar, and Jessica Lang, have begun to treat Krauss's work both on its own and in contrast to other contemporary writers. Krauss's texts raise questions of memory, trauma, distanciation, scale, and displacement—among other themes. Her novels consistently experiment with form, often juxtaposing different characters whose life trajectories may resonate with each other but do not necessarily cross.

Her debut novel, Man Walks into a Room, tells the story of Samson, a man whose memory quite suddenly becomes erased (or nearly erased) due to a tumor. As his relationship with his beautiful wife, Anna, unravels—he cannot remember her, after all—he finds his way into the "care" of a doctor whose experiments with memory implants lead Samson to the inheritance of a traumatic memory of a bomb test that he never anticipated nor wanted and which he cannot blot out. While this first novel is not really "Jewish American fiction" in the way that Krauss's subsequent three novels most certainly are [End Page 283] (Samson is half-Jewish and Jewish histories and stories are barely present), I read the importation of the memory of the bomb as an analogy for the Holocaust legacy that many American Jews (and many characters in Jewish American fiction) feel consciously or subconsciously as part of their psyches. Samson feels the weight of this imported memory and aches to excise it but it refuses to be pulled out and remains, stubbornly, against his will.

Seen from that perspective, Krauss's next novel, History of Love, became her first Jewish American text and tells the ultimately interlocking stories of Leo Gursky, a Holocaust survivor and elderly writer who lives in New York in an "apartment full of shit" (3), and Alma Singer, a kid named after a character in a novel which happens to be called The History of Love, and whose very fabric is sewn from buried memories. Her brother is named after Emanuel Ringelblum who "buried milk cans filled with testimony in the Warsaw Ghetto" (35). The Holocaust naturally haunts Leo—his entire life unraveled, including his greatest love, due to the displacements of the war. But it also haunts the young girl as she moves through family history and begins to seek solutions to mysteries that have always claimed her. History of Love features many formal innovations including switching between Leo's and Alma's perspectives without a clear path to understanding how the stories will intersect; pages with nothing but "LAUGHING & CRYING" (27), "LAUGHING & CRYING & WRITING" (29), and "LAUGHING & CRYING & WRITING & WAITING" (31) written on them; switches between first and third person; and alternative realities presented without resolution. The writing is lyrical and it is easy to see the traces of Krauss's past as a poet—she began her creative life as a poet and gradually morphed into a prose writer.

Continuing these formal innovations and deepening the use of poetic prose, Krauss's next novel, Great House, counterintuitively features a great desk as its main character and the thread that ties seemingly disparate stories together. This wooden desk boasts no fewer than nineteen drawers, of varying sizes, which one of the narrators understands as signifying a "kind of guiding if mysterious order in my life" (Great House 16). Each of the characters connects to the desk in different ways. It was given to the first narrator, Nadia, by a Chilean poet, Daniel Varsky, who...


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