The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

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The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Davida Chazan
Reviewed by Davida Chazan
Summary: Nicole Krauss' second novel is a beautifully complex and ultimately simple story that will charm and beguile the reader as they discover the worlds of two people who couldn't be more different, and yet have so much in common. The story will take you from a small town in pre-WW2 Poland, to the huge metropolis of New York city, with stops along the way in Argentina and Israel. Written in first person and with crisp prose, this book will appeal to anyone who likes to use their imagination and engage their hearts.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: January 2006
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0141019970

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Alma Singer is almost 15 years old. She was named after every girl in a book called The History of Love. Alma believes that she can find the real Alma from the book. She doesn't know Leo Gursky, or that he was the real author of The History of Love, or that he's in New York, or that he's never stopped loving Alma Mereminski, whom he wrote about 60 years before. Leo Gursky is a survivor - he survived the Holocaust, Alma leaving for America, and even finding out that the woman he loves married another. What Leo doesn't know is that The History of Love also survived the trip from Poland to South America without him, was translated from Yiddish into Spanish, and although very few people ever read it, is now being translated into English by Alma Singer's mother. This is the story of Nicole Krauss's book The History of Love.

If this plot summary is a bit confusing, I apologise in advance. But you see, The History of Love is not your conventional novel, and if I could sum this book up in one phrase, I'd say it is multi-faceted. First, it is a book of parallels. Leo's adoration for Alma Mereminsky parallels Alma Singer's parents' love. Leo and Alma's separation, parallels the death of Alma Singer's father. The manuscript Gursky wrote, and how it came to be published and translated without his knowledge, parallels Gursky's own life. And as Alma looks for the book's Alma, her experiences take place in parallel to Gursky's present life, as he tries to continue to survive in New York. But The History of Love is also a book about searching. Alma Singer is searching for the real Alma Mereminski. Alma's mother is searching for the right words to translate a beloved book into English, and in the process, a way out of her depression. Alma's brother is searching for his destiny, although he's only 12 years old. And Leo is searching through his memories and fantasies, while waiting for his death. Finally, The History of Love is, of course, a book about history. We find out the history of the manuscript, the history of Leo's friend Zvi Litvinoff, who published Leo's book, the history of Alma Singer, her parents and her brother, the history of Leo Gursky's life, and even the history of Alma Mereminski in America, as well as her sons.

But how, in a mere 253 pages does Krauss achieve this? This achievement is what makes this book so amazing. Krauss uses first person, so that we are in the minds of her characters as events unfold and are retold. Since Alma is only 14, her immature voice and wanderings of a young girl's mind mix with her determination for her quest. Since Leo is an old man, his voice has the wisdom of age, mixed with a longing for the past and a need to be both noticed and invisible. We also get Alma's brother's voice as well, which adds another dimension in that this minor character plays an important role in the story. Here we are given in a few strokes of the pen, a feeling that we are so familiar with these characters that we could recognize them on the street. We know so much about their lives that we could actually become friends with them, converse with them on subjects of mutual interest. Krauss proves through this book that you don't need to give a blow-by-blow of a person's life, personality and looks to make your readers empathise with the characters. This, combined with a narrative that sings from the page with its evocativeness, while never sounding flowery or poetic is what truly brings this book into the realm of genius. And then, with purely innocent prose she brings the story to its conclusion with such simplicity and humanity that I found myself with tears in my eyes.

As you can see, I love this book, but admittedly, it might not appeal to everyone. Firstly, it takes a bit of getting into (about 50 pages or so), but please be patient, it will come. Then, there is an overwhelming Jewish flavour to the story that non-Jewish people might be put off by, especially since there are terms and references they might not understand. But if you can ignore this (or revel in it like I did), then you'll find a fascinating book that is beautifully written, marvellously modest, elegantly intelligent but never pretentious. Highly recommended!

If you liked Marina Lewycka's A Short History of the Tractor in Ukrainian or Ian McEwan's Enduring Love mixed with the innocence of an Alexander McCall Smith story, I think you'll like this book.

Buy The History of Love by Nicole Krauss at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The History of Love by Nicole Krauss at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The History of Love by Nicole Krauss at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The History of Love by Nicole Krauss at Amazon.com.

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Magda said:

I must have some defect, because of all the books I have started in the last few years, this, as well as strangely enough, Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer who is Krauss' husband, were among the very few books which I borrowed with a very positive expectation, with the feeling that I should like them, started, read quite a bit of (well over 50 pages in both cases) and then just gave up on, which I don't often do with a book.

Davida replied:

Yes, I've heard this about this book. MALU said the same thing. Matter of taste, isn't it! As for me, I'm going to read it again - soon. And I don't do that with many books.

Sarah Jacob said:

Fabulous first fifty pages – Leo and Bruno are Lemmon and Matthau which is why the following pages were such a disappointment. I left the novel in a hotel room, something I have never done before; perhaps someone else will fall in love with it...