The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

I’m someone who can and does reread books. That’s part of the entire point, for me- to find the books that will be worth reading again. And since I’m a denizen of the library, those are the books that I’m actually willing to spend money on. The week before Christmas, I went to Barnes & Noble with my mom and spotted this book. Giftcards and such were starting to come in, and I was already eager to spend. But it was the week before Christmas. I had to wait, just to make sure that nobody was planning to put this under the tree for me.

And nobody did.

So, December 26th I returned to B&N and went to the K’s. And it wasn’t there. And it wasn’t in the back. And they didn’t have a stock coming in. I had to resign myself to ordering it. And waiting for it. And I didn’t make it a huge deal, because it’s not like I planned to reread it as soon as I laid my fingers on it, but I was really looking forward to having it in my possession.

7-9 days later, it arrived and it was mine!

I first borrowed this book from the library, at the beginning of the summer of 2010. No, it hasn’t been that long at all. I’m not sure what really made me borrow it- perhaps the title- because the summary on the inside flap didn’t really do anything for me, you know? Or I suppose it sort of did- it briefly mentioned an old man and a young girl and a mysterious book that tied them together and all this.

What it’s really about is three different human stories. The first is Leo Gursky, aforementioned old man, who moved from Poland to New York sixty years ago, five years after the girl he loved did the same. When Alma left, Leo was writing a book for her called The History of Love, sending it to her in installments overseas. When he went to America and found her, he also found the son he’d fathered, and the man Alma had married. He removed himself from their lives, and grew old.

Alma Singer is a fifteen year-old girl named after every female character in The History of Love. She lives in New York with her mother and her younger brother, Bird. Her father died of pancreatic cancer years before, and ever since her mother has been tagged by an incurable loneliness. Alma would like to find the cure. Suddenly in the mail, a strange request from a very wealthy man asking her mother to translate The History of Love from Spanish into English.

Zvi Litvinoff has died by the time Alma and Leo cross paths; years ago, when he left Poland for South America, he took with him a manuscript from a friend, promising to hold on to it until they met again.

One of the things I like about this novel is that Nicole Krauss does not go to any efforts to beautify the lives of her characters. She speaks honestly and openly about everything that people generally shy away from in polite conversation, but there’s no accompanying feeling of shame to reading the words. In return, her characters read with a rare honesty- they have nothing to hide. The other thing- something which is important to me in a very giant way- is that her prose is marvelous. She writes in a conscious style that immediately comfortable and places you softly right alongside the character.

When I read Jodi Picoult or Sara Gruen, I go through long paragraphs and come out thinking, “I will never be this good.” With Nicole Krauss, I came out thinking, “THIS is how I would write.” Of course, that’s not to say one is better or worse, Krauss just writes so differently that you read it and realize that, of course, there’s more than one way to write a novel.

There was one part where I very nearly cried- and I don’t know if it affected me last time- but I’ll try to explain it, because it’s really not a spoiler. Leo has a friend named Bruno, whom he knew as a boy but lost for years, and then met again in New York when they were both old. Now Bruno lives in the apartment above him. Leo tells the story of when Bruno got a dog he loved more than anything in the world. He would take this animal for walks in the dog park and praise her even though she couldn’t be house trained. Then one day, the dog ran away, right out the park gate, and Bruno ran after her crying for her to come back. He ran as long as he could, and then he returned home, dejected and heartbroken, and I ached for poor Bruno. And I can’t really explain why- V, you wonder what makes me cry? This almost made me cry. Now go find a movie where someone loses his dog.

That probably wouldn’t work. Sorry.

Vonnegut (I think) once said that to write fiction, everything you do must serve a purpose: to further the plot, or to build the character. Most writers balance this nearly fifty-fifty, or close to. With Krauss, it was closer to 65% character, 35% plot. I like this, because when I read a book, I read it for the characters- they’re people I like to know. Really, that’s why I don’t care for adventure or thriller as much as fiction- when it’s all plot, I get bored. Character is what matters to me.

I’m really very fond of this book. I know I’ve suggested it to friends, and they’ve all pretty much brushed it off because it didn’t sound interesting, but if you’re ever at a loss, it’s definitely worth a read.

Next, I have library books. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. My next review shouldn’t be too far off. Until then!

Published in: on January 26, 2011 at 7:58 pm  Comments (5)  
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