I wanted to highlight a book I’ve been reading lately as I’m so taken with the writing.
The book The History of Love is written by Nicole Krauss.
This book was on recommendation to me because of how taken I was with her husband’s (Jonathan Safran Foer) book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close which has some stunning writing. He is also the author of Everything is Illuminated, a book that was made into a movie of the same name starring Elijah Wood and Eugene Hutz, the lead singer from the gypsy punk (A totally rockin, if not obscure genre) band, Gogol Bordello. I’m copying an excerpt in at the end of the post that the author himself posted on a discussion board
Nicole Krauss has some similarities to her husband, but in the best sort of ways. Both utalize looping intricately interwoven narratives that capture multi-leveled stories. History of Love focuses on the stories of two primary figures, a little girl named Alma Singer and an old man Leo Gursky. But their are also segments from “books” written within this book, most namely a book called “The History of Love” from which Alma Singer gets her name:
Just as there was a first instant when someone rubbed two sticks together to make a spark, there was a first time joy was felt, and a first time for sadness. For a while, new feelings were being invented all the time. Desire was born early, as was regret. When stubborness was felt for the first time, is started a chain reaction, creating the feelings of resentment on the one hand, and alienation and lonliness on the other. It might have been a certain clounterclockwise movement of the hips that marked the birth of ectasy; a bolt of lightning that caused the first feeling of awe. Or maybe it was the body of a girl named Alma. Contrary to logic, the feeling of surprise wasn’t born immediately. It only came after people had enough time to get used to things as they were. And when enough time had passed, and someone felt the first feeling of surprise, someone, somewhere else, felt the first pang of nostalgia.
It’s also true that sometimes people felt things and, because there was no word for them, they went unmentioned. The oldest emotion in the world may be that of being moved; but to describe it-just to name it-must have been like trying to catch something invisible.
(Then again, the oldest feeling in the world might simply have been confusion.)
Having begun to feel, people’s desire to feel grew. They wanted to feel more, feel deeper, despite how much it sometimes hurt. People became addicted to feeling. They struggled to uncover new emotions. It’s possible that this is how art was born. New kinds of joy were forged, along with new kinds of sadness: The eternal disappointment of life as it is; the relief of unexpected reprieve; the fear of dying.
Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist. There are still those that lie beyong our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written, or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict,fathom, or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges, and absorbs the impact.
Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer also focus on the Jewish experience both in relation to the Holocaust, but also the struggle for identity in a modern America. Both authors are so well worth checking out.
Excerpt from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (note: in his posting there are no discreet paragraphs and I don’t have a copy right in front of me for reference):
WHY I’M NOT WHERE YOU ARE
To my unborn child: I haven’t always been silent, I used to talk and talk and talk and talk, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, the silence overtook me like a cancer, it was one of my first meals in America, I tried to tell the waiter, “The way you just handed me that knife, that reminds me of—” but I couldn’t finish the sentence, her name wouldn’t come, I tried again, it wouldn’t come, she was locked inside me, how strange, I thought, how frustrating, how pathetic, how sad, I took a pen from my pocket and wrote “Anna” on my napkin, it happened again two days later, and then again the following day, she was the only thing I wanted to talk about, it kept happening, when I didn’t have a pen, I’d write “Anna” in the air—backward and right to left—so that the person I was speaking with could see, and when I was on the phone I’d dial the numbers—2, 6, 6, 2—so that the person could hear what I couldn’t, myself, say. “And” was the next word I lost, probably because it was so close to her name, what a simple word to say, what a profound word to lose, I had to say “ampersand,” which sounded ridiculous, but there it is, “I’d like a coffee ampersand something sweet,” nobody would choose to be like that. “Want” was a word I lost early on, which is not to say that I stopped being able to express the want, so instead I said “desire,” “I desire two rolls,” I would tell the baker, but that wasn’t quite right, the meaning of my thoughts started to float away from me, like leaves that fall from a tree into a river, I was the tree, the world was the river. I lost “come” one afternoon with the dogs in the park, I lost “fine” as the barber turned me around toward the mirror, I lost “shame”—the verb and the noun in the same moment; it was a shame. I lost “carry,” I lost the things I carried—”daybook,” “pencil,” “pocket change,” “wallet”—I even lost “loss.” After a time, I had only a handful of words left, if someone did something nice for me, I would tell him, “The thing that comes before ‘you’re welcome,'” if I was hungry, I’d point at my stomach and say, “I am the opposite of full,” I’d lost “yes,” but I still had “no,” so if someone asked me, “Are you Thomas?” I would answer, “Not no,” but then I lost “no,” I went to a tattoo parlor and had YES written onto the palm of my left hand, and NO onto my right palm, what can I say it hasn’t made life wonderful, it’s made life possible, when I rub my hands against each other in the middle of winter I am warming myself with the friction of YES and NO, when I clap my hands I am showing my appreciation through the uniting and parting of YES and NO, I signify “book” by peeling open my clapped hands, every book, for me, is the balance of YES and NO, even this one, my last one, especially this one. Does it break my heart, of course, every moment of every day, into more pieces than my heart was made of, I never thought of myself as quiet, much less silent, I never thought about things at all, everything changed, the distance that wedged itself between me and my happiness wasn’t the world, it wasn’t the bombs and burning buildings, it was me, my thinking, the cancer of never letting go, is ignorance bliss, I don’t know, but it’s so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it. “I” was the last word I was able to speak aloud, which is a terrible thing, but there it is, I would walk around the neighborhood saying, “I I I I.” “You want a cup of coffee, Thoms?” “I.” “And maybe something sweet?” “I.” “How about this weather?” “I.” “You look upset. Is anything wrong?” I wanted to pull the thread, unravel the scarf of my silence and start again from the beginning, but instead I said, “I.” I know I’m not alone in this disease, you hear the old people in the street and some of them are moaning, “Ay yay yay,” but some of them are clinging to their last word, “I,” they’re saying, because they’re desperate, it’s not a complaint it’s a prayer, and then I lost “I” and my silence was complete. I started carrying blank books like this one around, which I would fill with all the things I couldn’t say, that’s how it started, if I wanted two rolls of bread from the baker, I would write “I want two rolls” on the next blank page and show it to him, and if I needed help from someone, I’d write “Help,” and if something made me want to laugh, I’d write “Ha ha ha!” and instead of singing in the shower I would write out the lyrics of my favorite songs, the ink would turn the water blue or red or green, and the music would run down my legs, at the end of each day I would take the book to bed with me and read through the pages of my life.
Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Safran Foer.