Excerpt from To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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To Be a Man

by Nicole Krauss

To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss X
To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2020, 240 pages

    Nov 2021, 240 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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Print Excerpt

My small bedroom had a window that looked onto an apple tree. On the day that I arrived, red apples were fallen all around it, rotting in the autumn sun. Inside the room was a small desk, a reading chair, and a bed at whose foot was folded a gray wool army blanket old enough to have been used in a world war. The brown carpet was worn down to the weave at the threshold.

Two other boarders, both eighteen, shared the back bedroom at the end of the hall. All three of our narrow beds had once belonged to Mrs. Elderfield's sons, but they had grown up and moved away long before we girls arrived to occupy them. There were no photographs of her boys, so we never knew what they looked like, but we rarely forgot that they had once slept in our beds. Between Mrs. Elderfield's absent sons and us there was a carnal link. There was also no mention of Mrs. Elderfield's husband, if she'd ever had one. She was not the sort of person who invited personal questions. When it was time to sleep, she switched off our lights without a word.

On my first evening in the house, I sat on the floor of the older girls' room among their piles of clothes. Back home, the girls sprayed themselves with a cheap men's cologne called Drakar. But the strong perfume that permeated these girls' clothes was unfamiliar to me. Mixed with their body heat and the chemistry of their skin, it mellowed, but from time to time it built up so strongly in their bedsheets and tossed-off shirts and bags that Mrs. Elderfield forced open the windows, and the cold air once again stripped everything bare.

I listened as the older girls discussed their lives in coded words I didn't understand. They laughed at my naïveté, but they were both only ever kind to me. Marie had come from Bangkok via Boston, and Soraya from the sixteenth arrondissement of Paris via Tehran, where her father had been the royal engineer to the shah before the revolution had sent their family into exile, too late to pack Soraya's toys but in time to transfer most of their liquid assets. Wildness—sex, stimulants, a refusal to comply—is what had landed them both in Switzerland for an extra year of school, a thirteenth year that previously neither of them had ever heard of.

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Excerpted from To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss. Copyright © 2020 by Nicole Krauss. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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