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Bio Hazards

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Still, her first novel had the feeling of being too perfect. It also left her distracted. “Getting a book published made me feel a little bit sad,” she says. “I felt driven by the need to write a book, rather than the need to write. I needed to figure out what was important to me as a writer.” What she needed was to take more chances. In writing the new book, “there was a real loosening of control. There was no end in sight, no synthesis at all until finally there it was.”

It’s tempting to attribute Krauss’s new risk-taking to her husband’s influence—even more so if you’ve read their new novels. “Did Krauss learn to be cute from her husband,” asked Entertainment Weekly, “both of whose books seem somewhat desperate to amuse?” Both books revolve around fathers, exiled from Europe, who have outlived sons they’ve never met. Both juxtapose precocious young narrators with eccentric old ones. Writing for the The New York Times Book Review, Laura Miller called these correspondences an “engraved invitation to compare and contrast.” The Village Voice noted with forensic suspicion a blue glass vase that appears in both books.

“These comparisons are laughable,” says Krauss, insisting the couple didn’t read each other’s proofs until the very end. “People find what they’re looking for.”

In fact, it’s clear that the writers’ passions (Joseph Cornell) and family histories (the Holocaust) ran parallel long before they met. As do their sensitivities: Like Foer, Krauss still seems a touch uncomfortable with the pigeonhole of “Jewish fiction.” Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood, Krauss “wanted to have nothing to do with anything Jewish at all.” Even as we walk through the forsaken shtetl of the Lower East Side and Krauss points out a bialy shop Leo name-drops and housing projects he might inhabit, she insists that “Leo might as well have lived in Baltimore.”

But she’s clearly begun returning to that history: A few years ago, she began recording conversations with her grandparents. And she’s been honing a semi-fictional piece—a chapter on each grandparent—that she might publish someday. Critics make much of her book’s unremarkable dedication, “For Jonathan, my life,” but have yet to mention the accompanying one: “For my grandparents, who taught me the opposite of disappearing.”

Krauss says that she shunned her heritage when she was younger because she was keen on “casting the line to a more foreign landscape” so as to distance her work from straight biography. She also notes that the hidden meanings of the most tantalizing material can sometimes be found in obvious places. Take that blue glass vase. “It was mine—a gift from my mom—and now it’s ours. It’s nice. I’ll show it to you one day.”

The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss.
W.W. Norton & Company.
252 pages. $23.95.

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