Tina's Reviews > The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
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Aug 27, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: read-in-university, read-in-the-summer
Read from April 24 to May 15, 2012

Leo Gursky is the oldest and loneliest man in the world. Loneliness seeps through every organ of his body, and he spends his days waiting to die. He purposely makes a spectacle of himself to strangers because he doesn't want to die unnoticed. Leo Gursky is a survivor, he has outlived everyone he loves, except for Bruno - his only friend(view spoiler). Leo Gursky has only loved one woman his entire life, and he has a son who doesn't know he exists.

Alma Singer is a 14 year old girl who has lost her father at the age of 9. Since then, her mother has shut off the world, and spends her days in her room, translating novels and hanging onto the memory of Alma's father. Alma has a younger brother, nicknamed Bird, who thinks he's a lamed vovnik or the messiah. Leo and Alma's stories are connected through a novel that Leo wrote when he was 20, that he thought was lost forever.

The prose is beautiful, and there are so many lines that wonderfully capture the human experience. Leo and Alma, as narrators, both present a very unique and compelling voice for the novel.

But, there are times when the prose bothers me. Leo likes to write one or two word sentences (e.g. "But." or "And yet."), which really disrupts the flow of the prose. I felt as if I've abruptly walked into a metal pole after periods of serene strolling.

The writing style was also all over the place, and it kind of fell apart towards the end. It was ok in the beginning, but it just seemed like the author was trying to incorporate too many things towards the end. It didn't feel very cohesive. I expected everything to come together in the end, but it was somewhat unresolved. Bird's and Alma's storyline felt unfinished.
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Quotes Tina Liked

Nicole Krauss
“I was never a man of great ambition
I cried too easily
I didn't have a head for science
Words often failed me
While others prayed I only moved my lips”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist, there are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges and absorbs the impact.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“At the end, all that's left of you are your possessions. Perhaps that's why I've never been able to throw anything away. Perhaps that's why I hoarded the world: with the hope that when I died, the sum total of my things would suggest a life larger than the one I lived.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“ONE THING I AM NEVER GOING TO DO WHEN I GROW UP
Is fall in love, drop out of college, learn to subsist on water and air, have a species named after me, and ruin my life.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“The truth is the thing I invented so I could live.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“Now that mine is almost over, I can say that the one thing that struck me most about life is the capacity for change. One day you're a person and the next day they tell you you're a dog. At first it's hard to bear, but after a while you learn not to look at it as a loss. There's even a moment when it becomes exhilarating to realize just how little needs to stay the same for you to continue the effort they call, for lack of a better word, being human.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“there are two types of people in the world: those who prefer to be sad among others, and those who prefer to be sad alone.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“Loneliness: there is no organ that can take it all.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“I want to say somewhere: I've tried to be forgiving. And yet. There were times in my life, whole years, when anger got the better of me. Ugliness turned me inside out. There was a certain satisfaction in bitterness. I courted it. It was standing outside, and I invited it in.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“15. WHENEVER I WENT OUT TO PLAY, MY MOTHER WANTED TO KNOW EXACTLY WHERE I WAS GOING TO BE

When I'd come in, she'd call me into her bedroom, take me in her arms, and cover me with kisses. She'd stroke my hair and say, 'I love you so much,' and when I sneezed she'd say, 'Bless you, you know how much I love you, don't you?' and when I got up for a tissue she'd say, 'Let me get that for you I love you so much,' and when I looked for a pen to do my homework she'd say, 'Use mine, anything for you,' and when I had an itch on my leg she'd say, 'Is this the spot, let me hug you,' and when I said I was going up to my room she'd call after me, 'What can I do for you I love you so much,' and I always wanted to say, but never said: Love me less.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love
tags: love

Nicole Krauss
“Part of me is made of glass, and also, I love you.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“All the times I have suddenly realized that my parents are dead, even now, it still surprises me, to exist in the world while that which made me has ceased to exist.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“That he liked to think of himself as a philosopher. That he questioned all things, even the most simple, to the extent that when someone passing him on the street raised his hat and said, 'Good day,' Litvinoff often paused so long to weigh evidence that by the time he'd settled on an answer the person had gone on his way, leaving him standing alone.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“Only now that my son was gone did I realize how much I'd been living for him. When I woke up in the morning it was because he existed, and when I ordered food it was because he existed, and when I wrote my book it was because he existed to read it.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“What about you? Are you happiest and saddest right now that you've ever been?" "Of course I am." "Why?" "Because nothing makes me happier and nothing makes me sadder than you.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom you feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms - i you find yourself at a loss for what do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognize the foreignnes of your own body - it's because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what's inside and what's outside, was so much less. ”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“I try to make a point of being seen. Sometimes when I'm out, I'll buy a juice even when I'm not thirsty. If the store is crowded I'll even go so far as dropping change all over the floor, nickels and dimes skidding in every direction. All I want is not to die on a day I went unseen.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“Sometimes no length of string is long enough to say the thing that needs to be said. In such cases all the string can do, in whatever its form, is conduct a person's silence.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“The fear of death haunted me for a year. I cried whenever anyone dropped a glass or broke a picture. But even then that passed, I was left with a sadness that couldn't be rubbed off. It wasn't that something had happened. It was worse: I'd become aware of what had been with me all along without my notice. I dragged this new awareness around like a stone tied to my ankle. Wherever I went, it followed. I used to make up little sad songs in my head. I eulogized the falling leaves. I imagined my death in a hundred different ways, but the funeral was always the same: from somewhere in my imagination, out rolled a red carpet. Because after every secret death I died, my greatness was always discovered.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love
tags: death

Nicole Krauss
“She’s kept her love for him as alive as the summer they first met. In order to do this, she’s turned life away. Sometimes she subsists for days on water and air. Being the only known complex life-form to do this, she should have a species named after her. Once Uncle Julian told me how the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti said that sometimes just to paint a head you have to give up the whole figure. To paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape. It might seem like you’re limiting yourself at first, but after a while you realize that having a quarter-of-an-inch of something you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you pretended to be doing the whole sky.

My mother did not choose a leaf or a head. She chose my father. And to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“The first language humans had was gestures. There was nothing primitive about this language that flowed from people’s hands, nothing we say now that could not be said in the endless array of movements possible with the fine bones of the fingers and wrists. The gestures were complex and subtle, involving a delicacy of motion that has since been lost completely.

During the Age of Silence, people communicated more, not less. Basic survival demanded that the hands were almost never still, and so it was only during sleep (and sometimes not even then) that people were not saying something or other. No distinction was made between the gestures of language and the gestures of life. The labor of building a house, say, or preparing a meal was no less an expression than making the sign for I love you or I feel serious. When a hand was used to shield one’s face when frightened by a loud noise something was being said, and when fingers were used to pick up what someone else had dropped something was being said; and even when the hands were at rest, that, too, was saying something. Naturally, there were misunderstandings. There were times when a finger might have been lifted to scratch a nose, and if casual eye contact was made with one’s lover just then, the lover might accidentally take it to be the gesture, not at all dissimilar, for Now I realize I was wrong to love you. These mistakes were heartbreaking. And yet, because people knew how easily they could happen, because they didn’t go round with the illusion that they understood perfectly the things other people said, they were used to interrupting each other to ask if they’d understood correctly. Sometimes these misunderstandings were even desirable, since they gave people a reason to say, Forgive me, I was only scratching my nose. Of course I know I’ve always been right to love you. Because of the frequency of these mistakes, over time the gesture for asking forgiveness evolved into the simplest form. Just to open your palm was to say: Forgive me."

"If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom you feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms – if you find yourself at a loss for what to do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognize the foreignness of your own body – it’s because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what’s inside and what’s outside, was so much less. It’s not that we’ve forgotten the language of gestures entirely. The habit of moving our hands while we speak is left over from it. Clapping, pointing, giving the thumbs-up, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together. And at night, when it’s too dark to see, we find it necessary to gesture on each other’s bodies to make ourselves understood.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle. Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field, from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, and they parted with leaves in their hair.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“Sometimes just to paint a head you have to give up the whole figure. To paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape. It might seem like you're limiting yourself at first, but after a while you realize that having a quarter of an inch of something you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you pretended to be doing the whole sky.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“At first Babel longed for the use of just two words: Yes and No. But he knew that just to utter a single word would be to destroy the delicate fluency of silence.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Nicole Krauss
“That's what I do. Watch movies and read. Sometimes I even pretend to write, but I'm not fooling anyone. Oh, and I go to the mailbox.”
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love


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