Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The History of Love

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The History of Love

by Nicole Krauss

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 252 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2006, 272 pages

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Krauss spent her childhood on Long Island and has degrees from Stanford and Oxford.  Well into her twenties, she wrote poetry, which "felt like the great goal of the language (she was a lot like the 14-year-old narrator of The History of Love, Alma Singer, who wants to be a survivalist, compiles obsessive lists, and is an avid collector). Then she abruptly quit poetry having set aside "an impossible quest for poetic precision".

Her first novel, Man Walks Into a Room, was very well received and was followed by a six-figure, two-book deal. Speaking of her first book she says, "Getting a book published made me feel a little bit sad ...... I felt driven by the need to write a book, rather than the need to write. I needed to figure out what was important to me as a writer."  While she was writing The History of Love she says, "There was a real loosening of control. There was no end in sight, no synthesis at all until finally there it was."

She is married to the author Jonathan Safran Foer - a subject she tends to avoid talking about in interviews because she prefers that her work stand alone.  Their debuts both appeared on the "best-of-lists" of 2002, and some reviewers feel that their second books bare striking similarities, and that the two must collaborate (both second books revolve around fathers, exiled from Europe, who have outlived sons they've never met).  Krauss describes such comparisons as "laughable", insisting that they do not collaborate and that they don't even read each other's proofs until the end. 

The reality seems to be simply that their interests run parallel; for example, before they even met, she did her Oxford thesis on compulsive collector-artist Joseph Cornell, and Foer created a poetry anthology inspired by Cornell's work; and both their family histories are rooted in the Holocaust, but they are both uncomfortable with having their books pigeonholded as "Jewish fiction".  Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood, Krauss "wanted to have nothing to do with anything Jewish at all." but she's clearly begun returning to that history: A few years ago, she began recording conversations with her grandparents, for a semi-fictional piece she might publish someday.

This article was originally published in June 2005, and has been updated for the April 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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