Summary and book reviews of To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss

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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  • Published:
    Nov 2020, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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Book Summary

In this dazzling collection of short fiction, the National Book Award Finalist and New York Times bestselling author of The History of Love - "one of America's most important novelists and an international literary sensation" (New York Times) - explores what it means to be in a couple, and to be a man and a woman in that perplexing relationship and beyond.

In one of her strongest works of fiction yet, Nicole Krauss plunges fearlessly into the struggle to understand what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman, and the arising tensions that have existed from the very beginning of time. Set in our contemporary moment, and moving across the globe from Switzerland, Japan, and New York City to Tel Aviv, Los Angeles, and South America, the stories in To Be a Man feature male characters as fathers, lovers, friends, children, seducers, and even a lost husband who may never have been a husband at all.

The way these stories mirror one other and resonate is beautiful, with a balance so finely tuned that the book almost feels like a novel. Echoes ring through stages of life: aging parents and new-born babies; young women's coming of age and the newfound, somewhat bewildering sexual power that accompanies it; generational gaps and unexpected deliveries of strange new leases on life; mystery and wonder at a life lived or a future waiting to unfold. To Be a Man illuminates with a fierce, unwavering light the forces driving human existence: sex, power, violence, passion, self-discovery, growing older. Profound, poignant, and brilliant, Krauss's stories are at once startling and deeply moving, but always revealing of all-too-human weakness and strength.

Switzerland

It's been thirty years since I saw Soraya. In that time I tried to find her only once. I think I was afraid of seeing her, afraid of trying to understand her now that I was older and maybe could, which I suppose is the same as saying that I was afraid of myself: of what I might discover beneath my understanding. The years passed and I thought of her less and less. I went to university, then graduate school, got married sooner than I imagined and had two daughters only a year apart. If Soraya came to mind at all, flickering past in a mercurial chain of associations, she would recede again just as quickly.

I met Soraya when I was thirteen, the year that my family spent abroad in Switzerland. "Expect the worst" might have been the family motto, had my father not explicitly instructed us that it was "Trust no one, suspect everyone." We lived on the edge of a cliff, though our house was impressive. We were European Jews, even in America, which is to say that catastrophic things...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Throughout the book, Krauss weaves present-time situations with emotional, ancestral echoes of destruction and deep, unburied grief. The past continues to propel her characters as they find courage to build new lives and relationships; most grapple with the Holocaust's traumatic abyss. The narrative lens consistently blurs elements of time and place, then zooms into scenes that uncover a common humanity. Most of the stories in the book feature unnamed narrators, and overlaps between characters in different stories are occasionally hinted at but not overt. Each story here stands well alone, yet there are shared currents of theme and geography...continued

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(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

Esquire
From a contemporary master, an astounding collection of ten globetrotting stories, each one a powerful dissection of the thorny connections between men and women…Each story is masterfully crafted and deeply contemplative, barreling toward a shimmering, inevitable conclusion, proving once again that Krauss is one of our most formidable talents in fiction.

USA Weekend
This triumphant first collection from Nicole Krauss crisscrosses the globe in 10 ambitious stories written over two decades that wrestle with sexuality, desire, and human connection…This is a spectacular book.

San Francisco Chronicle
A collection of wonders.

Chicago Review of Books
A beautiful, unique book…The stories are realist in approach but there’s a ruminating quality that reminds me of Patrick Modiano’s prose…Krauss’s creative framing, perspective, focus on love, sex, motherhood, and foreign lands are the common elements found throughout this extraordinary collection.

Boston Globe
A sustained shot of brilliance…By turns tight and exuberant, disciplined and expansive, the collection shimmers with insight and moments of perfectly realized beauty. It provokes unabashed laughter, in inspires profound thinking, it delights and disturbs in equal measure… Joy and woe are woven fine in this extraordinary book.

The New York Times Book Review
A superb collection...Krauss’s stories capture characters at moments in their lives when they’re hungry for experience and open to possibilities, and that openness extends to the stories themselves: narratives too urgent and alive for neat plotlines, simplistic resolutions or easy answers.

Financial Times (UK)
Nicole Krauss, one of the great novelists working today, has never shied away from asking the big questions. But as her powerful new collection of short stories shows, her power lies not simply in her own ability to interrogate life — but in the way she calls on her readers to do the same.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The latest collection of stories from Krauss is a wonder, with the author's signature straddling of the tragic and the absurd, her particularly Jewish frame of reference, and the extraordinary range of her narrative voice...A tremendous collection from an immensely talented writer.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[T]riumphant...Krauss's style is marked by a willingness to digress into seemingly superfluous details, yet the minutiae helps the author conjure a series of realistic environments, allowing each story feel lived in. This is a spectacular book.

Booklist (starred review)
What defines a life well-lived?...Krauss winningly explores these and other weighty issues in a home run of a short story collection…Above all, these stories pay homage to strong women. As female characters mature, they find resilience in the power they wield despite societal constraints.

Library Journal
In a first collection, National Book Award finalist Krauss uses superbly controlled language to investigate how we become who we are...Small gems, large ideas, highly recommended.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Megiddo

Aerial view of Tel Megiddo In To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss, a character in the story "End Days" is an archaeologist working at Tel Megiddo, the site of the ancient Palestinian city of Megiddo, which is situated near present-day Haifa, Israel. "Tel" refers to the "mound" on the site in which excavations have uncovered 26 layers of remains of ancient civilizations that date back more than 4,000 years.

Megiddo was originally a strategic settlement on a trade route that linked Mesopotamia with Egypt. Historians believe the site was inhabited as early as 7,000 BCE. Artifacts from the Bronze Age and Iron Age, along with funerary items including gold, ivory, ceramics and bones reveal a complex history of habitation and eventual demise. Noted structural remains ...

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