PW: Your novel, A History of Love, ties together three different plot lines—about a lost love, a lost book and a lonely old man named Leo—and leaves the reader guessing all the way to its redemptive ending. What was your inspiration?
Nicole Krauss: There was no initial idea at all. I could never have thought of these stories or the way I relate them before I wrote them. The whole novel came out of the struggle to connect them. I had just published my first novel and I remember feeling melancholy and conflicted. I was suddenly self-conscious about what it meant to be a writer. So it turns out that this book is filled with writers and readers and filled with books that people are writing or trying to write. In many ways I started to write this book for myself, as the kinds of book I like to read.
PW: And what kinds of books are those?
NK: I mention Bruno Schultz's The Street of Crocodiles in the novel. I also love Yehuda Amichai and David Grossman's See Under Love. Samuel Beckett is one of my favorite all time writers. I think the books that one loves are the books that one writes.
PW: The dedication of the book reads: "For my grandparents, who taught me the opposite of disappearing." Can you explain how they influenced this novel?
NK: Bits of their stories appear in this book but it isn't about them. Yet I never would have written it without them. They are all strong, life-loving people who had to leave Europe and start all over again in order to survive. They taught me to be strong. I'm fascinated by the spirit that requires strength and addiction to life. Everybody in this book is desperate to express themselves and communicate with other people, but each one starts from a position of solitude and loneliness.
PW:Man Walks into a Room was published by Nan Talese at Doubleday. Why did you go to Norton?
NK: Doubleday is quite a large house. Norton is an independent house and that means everything to me. I was looking for a place I could call home for the rest of my career. It seemed very important to have the support of all the people who were publishing my book. That afternoon when she said goodbye, [Norton executive editor] Jill Bialosky had tears in her eyes. I remember thinking, she has published so many books and she still has that kind of emotion to give to a book. That made my decision easy.
PW: Your novel has made an astonishing number of prepub sales: foreign rights book clubs, a movie option. Were you prepared for this widespread recognition?
NK: Never! When I handed the first 130 pages to my agent in a restaurant I remember hesitantly pushing them across the table saying, 'You're going to hate this. I loved writing it, but it felt like a sinking ship.' I've been shocked and amazed ever since.
PW: There are several references in the book to the ability to laugh and cry at the same time. One of the characters writes novels that are described as being defined by their humor and compassion, and the hope they search for amid despair." Is this a fair description of The History of Love?
NK:Gosh. I'm not sure, but I hope so. The kind of laughter that I love is the opposite side of crying. I love to laugh and I love to end up with tears coming down my face. That's the foundation of the whole book. Leo laughs so that he doesn't cry. That's something I find familiar in life, and it's what I wanted to convey.