on July 20, 2006
It's a rare book that puts the reader at a loss for adjectives: astonishing, brilliant, ground-breaking, are a few that come to mind. This book is not to be missed. You will read it more than once. It is simply a gem.
"He was a great writer. He fell in love. It was his life." While those are the final words of Nicole Krauss's illuminating second novel, "The History of Love," those three short sentences only highlight what I knew all along. This a unique book, haunting and quietly funny, and which leaves you thinking about memories, about death, and about love.
Leo Gursky has a weak heart, and may die at any moment. Virtually no one knows him, and his own son never even knew of him; he drops his change and buys things, just so someone might remember him when he dies. Sixty years ago, he fled Nazi-occupied Poland to pursue a childhood sweetheart to America, but she thought he had died, and married someone else.
Before that happened, Leo wrote a exquisite ode to her, called the "History of Love," a fictional look at love's origins, its milestones, and at a mysterious girl called Alma. A copy of that book found its way into teenage Alma's household, and she was named after that mysterious woman. Now, as her grief-stricken mother translates one of the few copies into English, Alma sets out on a journey of discovery -- about the mystery author, the person who wants the translation, and the mysterious original Alma.
Nicole Krauss writes much like her husband Jonathan Safran Foer -- she also takes a look at the past and present, at immigrants, and at the journies of our elders. And the insights she shows about the nature of love, and the intersections of life and literature, are startlingly deep. Many longtime authors can only dream of such delicate sensibilities.
The writing itself is surprisingly fluid, considering that Krauss changes narrators and timeframes several times, and sometimes refers to one character by different names. She also changes her style, depending on the narrator -- the old man has a more rambly style, while Alma neatly compiles her thoughts into numbered lists.
All the stories of death, loneliness and memories could be depressing. But Krauss injects them with gentle humor, such as Alma's brother Bird, who thinks he might be the Messiah (yeah, right, kid). There are also surprisingly poignant passages from the "History of Love" itself, which offer tiny insights into Leo's past love. Never sentimental, never maudlin. Just quietly, sadly romantic.
"The History of Love" is a truly exquisite piece of work, an insightful novel that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Definitely a beautiful read.
on May 7, 2005
Somehow over the last few years (working in a bookstore will do it) I've learned to place relatively less credence in professional reviews and relatively more in reader reviews. Some of each are consulted in a quick search for a bottom line: will I like it, or won't I?
The short answer here is yes. The characters feel genuine, the story is touching, the writing literary and accessible at the same time. It is a search for people and books lost long ago, and refound, and I'm glad I found this book.
on July 6, 2005
Very good book. It's one of these rare cases, when I agree with all the professional reviewers. Everything works together - storyline, language. In the beginning, I got confused with different parts of story, but decided not to worry about that - and to enjoy the process, waiting patiently for parallel realities and worlds to come together - and it was worth every minute of my time. Definitely a book that I am glad to have on my bookshelf.
on October 17, 2006
Not sure how I got interested in a book with this title, but it it such an amazing story and it kept me wanting to read more and more. It never got boring, it had the right amount of surprises, and the characters were so well-defined and interesting and unique. So sensible. I fell in love with the main character.