Nicole Krauss: ‘The idea of manhood is so beleaguered’

The novelist on writing in the voices of men, the benefits of having a dual identity, and lockdown jogging alongside New York’s mayor

Nicole Krauss is the author of four novels, including the bestselling The History of Love. She was brought up in the splendid isolation of a Bauhaus masterpiece on Long Island. Her mother is British, her father American, both children of Jewish immigrants. Krauss’s work explores Jewish culture and history, particularly the Holocaust and the traces it has left on contemporary American and Israeli life. She lives in Brooklyn with her sons, who are 11 and 14. Their father is the author Jonathan Safran Foer, whom Krauss married in 2004 and divorced in 2014. To Be a Man is her first story collection.

It seems as if you dwell imaginatively in two different places: Israel and America. What does this dual identity bring to you as a writer?
As a writer, it’s an enormous boon. What I don’t have in my American or New York context, for example 2,000 or 3,000 years of history, I have in Israel. What I don’t have here [in the US] is that thing of specifically belonging to a community that I feel I’m an authority on – Roth had his Newark, which I didn’t have. Israel, or at least Tel Aviv, is a much smaller community, much more manageable. I have two societies that offer very different systems of value. So whereas in America there’s the wildness of the idea that one can become anything, in Israel there are these other values that are about what it is to belong to a family, to history, this feeling of knowing what it is to operate under the burdens of history on a daily basis. A strong sense of the urgency of life.

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