“We live, each of us, to preserve our fragment, in a state of perpetual regret and longing for a place we only know existed because we remember a keyhole, a tile, the way the threshold was worn under an open door.” from Great House by Nicole Krauss
It is the small objects; the ones that look so ordinary but hold the secrets of all that make us human. The most striking realization I had of this was the first time I walked through the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. It was impossible to walk around without a weight on my heart, reading about the beasts humans can be to one another. Most overbearing for me, though, was the small display of personal effects, collected from victims in the camps: hairbrushes, razors, the small kinds of objects that have no meaning, really, in the context of their daily use. But when considered in light of loss, these tiny items haunted me with the humanity that was denied to their owners, so much so that I had no other option but to retreat to the dark, concrete room where you hear stories of survivors piped in through speakers and let the darkness settle.
This narrator is an antiques dealer, specializing in objects seized by the Nazis. He searches all over the world to find the objects that hold the weight in the world within them for some. I love how Krauss’ characters often have a respect for the small details of life that speak volumes of who we are as a people. The fate of this dealer, though, is wrapped in the inability to put the pieces of his broken life back together again–the impossibility to curate a moment that has passed, and he is left standing the burden of unbearable longing, which I think is humanity’s signature.