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'To Be a Man': Nicole Krauss Explores The Roles Of Men In Modern-Day Relationships In New Short Story Collection

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In the short story collection To Be a Man, Nicole Krauss helps us decipher the puzzle of what it means to be a man — and woman — in various roles and stages of life and the tensions that exist within all of these relationships—from the familial to the romantic.

Nicole Krauss is known for her acclaimed novels, including Forest Dark, Great House, and The History of Love. Now in a collection of short stories in contemporary settings in Switzerland, Tel Aviv, Japan, New York City, and South America, she shows us male characters as fathers, lovers, friends, children, seducers, and even a lost husband who may never have been a husband at all — and all the women who try to figure out these men.

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Highlights from the Interview with Nicole Krauss

On the title of the collection
It's impossible to capture in a title, all the many notes and chords we hope to hit in a book, especially in a book of short stories, which is full of a lot of variety, but I knew that long before many of the stories in this collection were written that I wanted to write a book with this title because under this title, a lot of things that matter to me could live together. So, to hear the phrase, “to be a man,” I think echoed and held within that phrase, just the question of, to be a woman with men. It was that question that was really in the forefront of my mind when I started to conceive of this collection, which was a few years ago. And I was thinking a lot about how I have, as a writer, invested myself in becoming men on the page, as often as I have in becoming women and that I've always been drawn to know what that is or to explore it, just explore the complexities of it.

On the character of “Brodman” in the story “Zusya on the Roof”
He fascinated me as a character too, which is why I couldn't let go of him. He was with me for a long time on the page before I ever finished that story. And I think one of the things that drew me to him, Broadman, is he is nearing the end of his life. And when we meet him in the story, he's just barely survived stomach cancer. So, in his own explanation, he’s died and come back to life. And while that's happened, his first and only grandson is born. And this is really a story of a man who has been bent by duty and responsibility to traditions. He was the son of Jewish immigrants to America and his parents were religious. And he grew up to be a professor of Jewish history at Columbia university.

On writing about place
Place has always drawn me as a writer. I'm very interested in describing a place or inhabiting different places. And so my work has gone from New York to Tel Aviv to London to South America to Japan, and then some, you know, and to Berlin. All of those places, I think, exist in this collection. And many of them have existed in all of my novels at the same time. And I think that comes from being the child of immigrants. My four grandparents were from four different countries in Europe, and they all left. Because of the Holocaust, they had to leave. And my mom grew up in London and my dad in New York and Tel Aviv. I grew up with a sense of being composed of these many, many different places and that there was no one geography, no literal geography, that could ever be called home, but that each of these places represented both a loss and a gain.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.