Manda's Reviews > The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
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Nov 30, 09

bookshelves: read-in-2006, keeper
Read in January, 2006

Precis: A story about a family living on after the death of the husband/father and an old man living on after losing his one true love, and the child they had together, and how one book links them.

I've read this book once, and am going to have to read it through again, as there is information given at the end that changes my perception of a lot of things occurring through the book. I thought I would comment after my first reading through - I enjoyed this book, despite it's very choppy structure, despite the intrusion within the book of chapters of another book - the book of the title, a book called "The History of Love" and despite the fact that at first there seems little relationship between the characters. The stories draw you in.

The book is a lot about loss. The major characters from whose viewpoints we see the stories have all suffered at least one major death, and their grief flutters over the pages. Despite this, the book is not a sad book at all, but a book about hope. Leo Gursky the main character, is old, bad tempered, wicked, and very accident prone. He has also suffered enormously in his life, but as he is described with such humour, the sadness is not hard to read.

Whilst writing this book Nicole Krauss said in an interview that "...right now I'm really in love, and that feeling is all over every page I write", and that makes sense to me - this book is full of hope and good feeling, despite dealing with several important deaths, the holocaust and the loss of ones best life's work.

I would guess that the author has had some family connection with the Holocaust. There are photos of her grandparents on the dedication page, with "FOR MY GRANDPARENTS who taught me the opposite of disappearing", and in the context of the book that message seems to be about surviving the Holocaust.

Right, now I go to re-read the book.

*********

I have re-read the book several times now - in fact I seem to pick it up every hour or so to study some fact. I have been online researching the book "Street of Crocodiles" by Bruno Schulz, referred to in the text, which is a real book, and looking up what the Russian words "Dai ruku" mean (give me your hand). I have pondered over whether Leo's childhood friend Bruno, who died in July 1941 and was clearly a writer, was Bruno Schulz, though I don't think so as Bruno Schulz died in November 1942, and was aged 50.

The format of the book, with the chronology all mixed up makes reading the book a bit like detective work. There are undercurrents and eddies in the book that are very interesting, and add to the feeling of discovery. Leo has both his manuscripts plagiarised, one accidentally, one deliberately, if reluctantly. Leo recalls two of his friends from the village, Bruno, a writer, and Zvi Litvinoff, also a writer, although one who, through his plagiarism of Leo's book, stopped his own voice. So may writers from one little village. Charlotte Singer is a mystery all to herself - of course we only see her through her children, and what mother isn't a mystery to her children? Finding out that Bruno Schulz translated Franz Kafka's The Trial into Polish makes me rethink Charlotte, who earns a living translating books into English from other languages. The book contains chapters from the book being translated - also called "The History of Love", so a book within a book. The book within the book does not exactly set the world on fire when it is published, which is interesting when I think about the author, and how she chose to write it, and about the style she chose for it.

Alma, the original Alma, is a enigma as well. Leo, Bruno and even Zvi all seem to have had a relationship of sorts with her. She says that Isaac is Leo's son, but is he? Could he be Bruno's son, or Zvi's? None of them had any other children. Isaac is so much bigger than his father- he has longer arms, bigger feet. Those could be clues that Leo was not the father of Isaac.

Thought provoking.
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