Posted by: istop4books | December 3, 2009

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss


If there was a way to give this book 6 stars and 2 stars for the different components, I would. The book started out with a bang, in fact I mentioned to my husband that I thought he would like it, even though he’s allergic to the word “love.” The story had me at the first sentence: “When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF SHIT.” And it got better from there.


Leo is an old man, a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was murdered. He’s a survivor , hysterically funny at times, a writer and a sentimental fool. The story opens in New York where Leo lives in a small apartment and longs to be seen, to be loved and to love someone visible and tangible. He walks through the city attracting attention to himself to avoid the pain of invisibility. This is what Krauss does best. She puts us in Leo’s shoes and allows us to feel his loneliness and isolation. The pain and sorrow of finishing up a long life with little human contact and realizing he had been tilting windmills for his entire life.


Leo has written a couple of books, but his last book, “The History of Love” was given to a friend in manuscript form for safekeeping. This friend, thinking Leo has died with the rest of his family in the Holocaust, years later rewrites the book in his own hand, changing a few names but leaving the most important name intact. Alma. Alma was the love of Leo’s life, they were sweethearts before the war, but as wars tend to do, become separated and go their separate ways. Alma, pregnant with Leo’s baby, waits for Leo until finally she marries another man who brings up Leo’s son as his own.


Leo drifts through the days of his life wishing and pining for these two people who have moved on. He no longer writes and seems to just be waiting to die.


So that’s the part that I loved. Leo’s story, his narrative and the voice that the author gave him, a man with no voice.

Enter the rest of the cast.


Young Alma, is a 15 year old girl, and thank you God, not precocious, overly bright, or obnoxious in any way. In and of itself, she would have had a sweet little story, but as the narrative switches back and forth from Leo to Alma, it becomes impossible not to compare Leo’s compelling story with Alma’s young, naïve voice. And this is where the book peters out. Alma has lost her father to cancer at a young age and she misses him. She writes lists of his memory, she tells her brother stories about the dad he doesn’t remember, whether true or not, to boost his memory and love. Poignant, true – I’ve been there and Krauss got it spot on. But then Alma becomes a little detective, trying to figure out who the characters are in the book that her mother has been paid an outrageously generous amount of money to translate. And the book? Yes – The History of Love.


The narrative comes and goes and at times it becomes difficult to follow. There’s a lot of new age writing going on with fragmented sentences and plenty of blank pages. I kinda like that. It doesn’t detract from the book – but the twists and turns and the fact that the author throws red herrings in the first 10 pages of the book – that bothered me.


At the end of the book, another narrator surfaces, Bird – Alma’s younger brother, whose character is never really developed; he checks out Alma’s personal notes and decides he needs to interfere and help her out.


Then the book ends. Loose ends everywhere. Stunning, obscure turns of events


Now for the nit-picking. The guy who kept Leo’s manuscript, wound up in Valparaiso Chile. I lived there for many years and there were a few mistakes. Two that come to mind. The author talks about the intense heat. Nope. Never. It rarely goes above 85 degrees – and that’s a royal heat wave. It also rarely goes below 38 degrees. Which leads me to mistake number 2: His wife Rose was planting Tulips. As much as that whole country is flower crazy and they would LOVE to plant tulips – at least in the central valley it’s just never going to happen. The winters don’t get cold enough for the bulbs and they wind up getting mushy and not surviving. OK. That’s


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