Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Writing ‘The history of love’

November 16, 2011 1 comment

~Nicole Krauss

(Princeton Public Library Distinguished Lecture Series)

 People often describe reading as a means of escape. I read to arrive.


“Nicole Krauss is the author of the international bestsellers Great House, a finalist for the National Book Award and the Orange Prize, and The History of Love, which won the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Ėtranger, and was short-listed for the Orange, Médicis, and Femina prizes. Her first novel, Man Walks Into a Room, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for First Fiction. In 2007, she was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists, and in 2010 The New Yorker named her one of the 20 best writers under 40. Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, and Best American Short Stories, and her books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.” Krauss majored in English from Stanford and did her Masters in Art history.


The history of love (THOL):

“A long-lost book reappears, mysteriously connecting an old man searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother’s loneliness.

Leo Gursky is just about surviving, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But life wasn’t always like this: sixty years ago, in the Polish village where he was born, Leo fell in love and wrote a book. And though Leo doesn’t know it, that book survived, inspiring fabulous circumstances, even love. Fourteen-year-old Alma was named after a character in that very book. And although she has her hands full—keeping track of her brother, Bird (who thinks he might be the Messiah), and taking copious notes on How to Survive in the Wild—she undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With consummate, spellbinding skill, Nicole Krauss gradually draws together their stories.

This extraordinary book was inspired by the author’s four grandparents and by a pantheon of authors whose work is haunted by loss—Bruno Schulz, Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, and more. It is truly a history of love: a tale brimming with laughter, irony, passion, and soaring imaginative power.”


(I shall write in first person from here on, using Krauss’ words as far as possible). I have also supplemented what she said in the lecture with lines from some of her earlier interviews.


When I started writing THOL, I was a young author who had just published her first novel. Many questions bothered me.

How many people is enough people? How do you measure the impact of your writings on others? Why should one continue to write if one doesn’t know if it matters to others?

I wanted to write a book which very few people would read but which would have an impact on them and connect them together.

I am influenced by Bruno Schulz and knowing that there were lost manuscripts of one of my favourite author which I would never be able to read was incredibly painful to me. Almost everyone in the novel is a writer of some kind or another. Some of their books have never been read, some have been lost, some are written in journals, some published under the wrong name. And yet, being readers as well as writers, they’re all held together by the invisible threads that tie together those whose lives have been changed in some way by a certain book written sixty years ago.

What kind of a writer did I want to be?

I was ready to pose questions despite not having all the answers and to lose myself in the different strands of the book.

The fine line of distinction between personal and autobiographical:

The 14 year old Alma was initially too close to me for me to be unhindered regarding the development of her character. Writing should be intimate but not too autobiographical, since it leads to loss of freedom.


Idea of structure:

I’m very interested in structure, how multiple stories are assembled in different ways; that is what memory does as well. I’ve always thought of novels as containers of memory. The idea is to juxtapose these fragments and create a work of art that could never have been made from those pieces in that order.

I was a poet for for several years of my life, and now here I am, as a lowly novelist. ‘Stanza’ is the Italian word for room. Each stanza of a poem is liek a room, which you can improve to perfection. But when you close the door, you finish the poem, it’s over!

Novels on the other hand, are houses, as opposed to these perfect rooms.

In a house, something or the other is always broken. The door is stuck, the roof is bad, there’s leakage..and so on. Novels, just like houses, are inherently imperfect. It’s upto you to define and decide the form of the novel and I found this immensely exciting.


Memory as a creative act:

My grandparents were Jews who were forced to leave Europe. Stories hat I’ve heard from them gave me this sense of nostalgia, the feeling that you can never go back. We empathize with people because we can remember our own experiences. But what if you don’t remember anything? Like the protagonist of ‘Man walks into a room’ who is found wandering in the Nevada desert with no memory of his previous life.

We forget vast portions of our lives. Instead we remember just a few, discrete moments which we string together to construct a narrative about ourselves. In a way, you are all fiction writers! Good luck!

We alter our past to make our lives bearable and to have a sense of self and coherence. THOL is a celebrations of this act of imagination to create a sense of self. Like Leo, a survivor of catastrophies, says in THOL:

Truth is the thing I invented, so that I could live.


Novels and history, Jewish memories:

I feel novels tell us as much about a culture as do history books.  For the Jewish community which has been physically separated for so many years, stories have been critical in holding the community together. Writing novels is an effort to rewrite history in a somewhat bearable way.


Writing a novel is getting a structural  blueprint of how your mind works and I would recommend it  to everyone just for that.

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