Tessa: I recently finished reading The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, wife of Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated. Being a hopeless romantic, I was intrigued by the title. Wow, a book not just about love, but the HISTORY OF LOVE. So it surprised me that I didn’t love this book, especially after all the glowing reviews it has received in the press.
The plot is simple. Fourteen year old Alma Singer’s father dies and five years later she can’t stand her mother’s loneliness anymore, so she goes searching for a companion for her. Through a long convoluted plot twist, her search takes her to a book called The History of Love, where she begins to unravel the mystery of the central character in the book, after whom she is named, and who is clearly the love of the author’s life.
Through several more convoluted plot twists, too many to mention, she is ultimately lead to Leopold Gursky, a survivor of the pogroms in Poland, and now an old man living in New York.
Leo Gursky was a man in love and he loved a woman who didn’t love him back. And yet. His life and his work are infused with the emptiness of having lost his true love after she leaves the small village in Poland where they grew up together. In truth, I love the character of Leo Gursky. He is a funny, wise, heart broken man, who begins dying early in life, not only because he loses Alma but because he loses everything. And yet. Like most of us, he survives. The greatest loss for Leo, is not what his life is but what it could have been.
I also like Alma Singer and her brother Bird. But something about this book reminds me too much of Oscar in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and at times I feel like I’m reading the same characters. I guess I’m also tired of books whose narrative structure moves back and forth between characters building a bridge between the two that ultimately leads to the resolution of the plot. Just give me plain ol’ linear narrative. In truth I think I read this book too soon after Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and it felt a little too much like reading the same book. I also found the plot somewhat confusing and the transitions between these voices somewhat obfuscating. Maybe I’m just cranky because I’m tired. Anyways, it is a great homage to love and well, that’s always worth a read I think. I’ll leave you with a small poem about Leo Gursky and you can decide if you want to read more.
The Death of Leopold Gursky
Leopold Gursky started dying on August 18, 1920
He died learning t walk.
He died standing at the blackboard.
And once, also, carrying a heavy tray.
He died practicing a new way to sign his name.
Opening a window.
Washing his genitals in the bath.
He died alone, because he was too embarrassed to phone anyone.
Or he died thinking about Alma.
Or when he chose not to.
Really, there isn’t much to say.
He was a great writer.
He fell in love.
It was his life.