Nicole Krauss explains what inspired her to write A History of Love
I started to write The History of Love in the spring of 2002, just
after my first novel was published. It was a strange time: wonderful, but also
melancholy. Something about the feeling of writing seemed to change for me once
the book was published. I felt, a bit, as if I'd lost something hard to put my
finger on, something personal and natural that I'd loved about writing. I was
working on a new book, but my heart wasn't quite in it. So one day I decided to
throw away the hundred or so pages I had. I wanted to give up my old ideas about
writing - or at least about trying to write well - and just write something for
myself. To no end. A nothing.
Soon after that, Leo's voice appeared on the page. It was so familiar to me: at
once the easiest thing I'd ever written, and also the most alive. Sometimes I
even confused his voice with my own, or was unable to tell us apart; strange to
say, considering he's an eighty-year-old man from Poland. But with the arrival
of Leo's voice, I found a way to write about things that were personal without
being autobiographical. To me that's an important distinction. If I were to
write an autobiographical sentence about this moment, I might say: I'm writing
in the study on the top floor of my house, one knee up, with my sister's
sweatshirt on. But if I were to write something personal, I'd describe something
of my inner life - something I can't do with ease in a reader's guide essay,
without the armor of fiction - with the hope that it might be familiar to someone
else. If it's personal to me, maybe it will feel personal to someone who reads
my books. I wanted to write a book that people would take personally.
So while the novel is filled with stories I heard growing up from my four
grandparents, born in Hungary, Poland, Germany, and White Russia, and from my
parents, one who grew up London and the other in Israel and New York, at the
same time the novel is entirely imagined - and more than that, I wanted it to be a
celebration of the imagination.
It's hard to say what the seeds were for the story in The History of Love,
aside from certain experiences and feelings that took a novel to describe.
Almost from the start, I knew that, along with Leo, I also wanted to have a
young girl in the book. So Alma was born. And for almost a year I wrote both of
their stories, without having any idea of their relationship to each other. I
just knew that somehow they belonged in the same book. Needless to say, many
pages were thrown away.
I know that early on I was moved by the idea of people who need to invent things
in order to survive, either for their own sake or for the sake of protecting
those they love. At some point in the book, Leo imagines telling his son: The
truth is the thing I invented so I could live. Everyone in the book invents
things they need to believe, or protects the inventions of those they love. And
everyone in the book writes, which I suppose is no accident. For a long
time - almost a year - I wrote my nothings, my pages to no end. And pretty soon it
became clear to me how much I wanted them to be something, how much of a piece
they felt, with Leo and Alma almost opposite sides of the same coin. I don't
remember when, exactly, the form of the novel crystallized in my mind. I know I
worried a lot, thinking I would never bring all of the strands of it together.
Until I got there, I didn't know how the book would end. But somehow it did end,
almost as accidentally as it began. And now, to my surprise, it's something.