"Tell me that’s not a cellphone," says Nicole Krauss, the acclaimed author of The History of Love, who has come here for the International Writers’ Festival.
She’s talking about a tinny version of the theme from Exodus which fills the air as we sit on the balcony of the restaurant at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem. Krauss, born and raised in New York, lives in Brooklyn and is married to another prominent writer, Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of Everything Is Illuminated, who is also taking part in the festival.
As we listen to the Exodus music, it soon becomes clear: It is indeed a ring tone from one of the other tables. Krauss, 36, laughs, and gets back to explaining her complex relationship to this country, one that goes much deeper than that of most American Jews who fly in to see the Western Wall.
She has a brother who lives here, as well as maternal grandparents from Britain who made aliya and lived in Jerusalem. Her father spent years here as a child, while his father ran a branch of the Bulova company in Tel Aviv. Her parents actually met here, at a conference at the Knesset, and married here, although they then moved to the US.
“We visited every year when I was growing up,” she recalls. “I remember it as a place where we would see my grandparents. I would go to the shuk with my grandmother.”
But a deeper interest in the country has been a relatively recent development in her life. “As a younger person, I wasn’t so interested in concentrating on or exploring Judaism. But inevitably, you begin to ask, who am I? There was a wealth of feeling and desire caught up in that question, and I began to ask what it is to be a Jew. And around then, my idea of Israel began to change. It wasn’t just a place I came with my family, to see my grandparents. It was something to argue with, working in all the contradictions, and it became something to work against. Not just beautiful klezmer music,” she says, gesturing to the table with the Exodus
While many artists who take part in festivals here come for whirlwind visits, she, Foer and their two children will be staying for several months. It will be part of a writers’ residency, based on the program of the American Academy in Rome and Berlin, in which artists and scholars spend time living and working abroad.
Although they are starting out at the festival in Jerusalem, they will be spending time in Tel Aviv as well. “This experience will be a gate into the life of the city, and ideally it becomes part of your work,” she says.The full interview with Nicole Krauss will appear in this Friday's issue of The Jerusalem Post Magazine.