Nicole Krauss’ second novel, The History of Love, appears early next month. Warner Bros. snapped up the film rights in late January, paving the way for massive publicity that will swing into high gear in the coming weeks.
Please don’t let the hype or other, extraneous considerations deter you from reading this striking book, which combines a probing psychological narrative and intricate plot with meditations, reminiscent of Calvino and Borges, on the visceral and enduring, and sometimes unilateral, bond of — yes, that’s right — love.
If you’re disinclined to give much credence to hastily composed endorsements like this one, maybe J.M. Coetzee will convince you. (Unlike some authors, the conscientious and very private Nobel laureate doesn’t fling glowing blurbs around willy-nilly.) Here’s his sound byte for The History of Love: “Charming, tender, and wholly original.”
An excerpt from the novel’s opening is available in the New Yorker archives. In this section, Leon, one of the main characters, recalls his early attempts at fiction writing:
When I was a boy, I liked to write. I wrote three books before I was twenty-one. The first was about S., the village in Poland where I lived. I drew a map of it for the frontispiece, labelling each house and shop: here was Kipnis the butcher, and here Pinsky the tailor, and here lived Fishl Shapiro, who was either a great tzaddik or an idiot, no one could decide, and here the village square and the field where we played, and here where the forest began, and here stood the tree from which Beyla Asch had hanged herself, and here and here. And yet. When I gave it to the only person in S. whose opinion I cared about, she just shrugged and said maybe it would be better if I made things up. So I wrote a second book, and I filled it with men who grew wings, and trees with their roots growing into the sky, and people who forgot their own names, and people who couldn’t forget anything. When it was finished, I ran all the way to her house. I leaned against a wall and watched her face as she read it. It got dark outside, but she kept reading. Hours went by. I slid to the floor. When she finished, she looked up. At first she didn’t speak. Then she said that perhaps I shouldn’t make up everything, because that made it hard to believe anything.
I wonder if this description tracks Krauss’ own experience of learning to write. In the end, her fiction, like Leon’s, blends fact and fantasy, with breaktaking results.