History of Love By Nicole Krauss
Now out in paperback, The History of Love was published in 2005 and received intriguing and very positive reviews in the American newspapers. It is a difficult novel to describe - what I can say is that I loved it. I read it in a day, but could not imagine how to describe it to anyone else. I was not sure, in fact, if it would appeal to a wide audience - especially a non-Jewish audience. It has, however, sold very well since its recent paperback release and is on book club lists all over the world. So, this is an attempt to review and describe a book that I’m not sure I understood on first reading, but I loved both the story and the writing itself. Our hero is Leo Gursky. Leo is a wonderful character. I loved reading about this man. Nicole Krauss has said that she found the “voice” of Leo easy to write, perhaps because she has recently started to record conversations with her grandparents, who are holocaust survivors and immigrants to the United States, as is Leo. Leo grew up in Poland, where he survived the Nazi massacre of his village. He is currently living in an apartment in New York City. He is a retired locksmith, a handy skill as it turns out. Leo is still mourning the loss of Alma, the girl he loved in Poland, and of the son he has never met. There is, though, much comic relief in this story of loss - especially the scenes of Leo volunteering as the nude model for a life drawing class. The story of Leo moves back and forth in time as the past is slowly revealed to the reader.
The other main character is Alma. There are three Almas in this novel - one is the character in a novel, another is the girl Alma, loved by Leo in Poland, and there is our heroine, Alma Singer, a teenage girl living in New York City in the current time. It is Alma that this book is really all about - all of them. Alma Singer is mourning the death of her father. She is obsessed with wilderness survival, while her brother, Bird, in his grief, is more strangely obsessed with the belief that he is the messiah. Their mother loses herself working on the translation of a book titled The History of Love from Spanish to English.
All of these characters are inventing, imagining lives for themselves as they experience loss and search for love. Much of the action is what they imagine. It is love that drives the narrative. Leo has never stopped loving the Alma of his youth and it is love and concern that drives Alma Singer to look for the author of the book her mother is translating.
This is another wonderful New York City book. The characters move about the city and it is very much part of the story. There is delightful Dickensian coincidence and chance that bring together Leo and Alma, and the twisted threads of the complicated plot unravel to reveal the hidden stories of the lives of these richly imagined characters, in a superb novel.