Briana's Reviews > The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
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's review
Feb 24, 2008

really liked it

I came to this book expecting to be unimpressed, and I am not normally that type of reader. But I had read articles about Kraus and her husband (Jonathan Safran Foer) and how their latest novels were eerily similar. Having loved her husband’s book, I figured The History of Love would be a let down. I was wrong.

While I loved the precociousness of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close's Oskar, despite many criticizing Foer for it, after reading THOL Oskar just isn’t as appealing. Sure, his search is poignant and there are moments of pure brilliance in Oskar’s constant inventing and surviving. But, Kraus’ characters are richer and more human; fantastical in their own right (Leo’s desperate attempts to not die on a day that no one has seen him, Alma’s naïve effort to construct happiness for her mother, Bird’s fantasies of being a lamed vovnik), yet believable and real.

At first glance, old man Leo Gursky is depressed and depressing. After responding to an ad in the newspaper, Gursky is hired for $10 as a model for a nude drawing class. The reader is left to feel sorry for Gursky and speculate about why he would go (he craves human interaction, he doesn’t want to die on a day no one saw him, he’s bored). His apartment is covered in stuff---cluttered like that of a collecting recluse. He has a deal with his best friend Bruno to periodically check on each other to make sure one of them hasn’t died without anyone noticing. It’s a heavy dose of depression at the beginning. Yet, once he begins to tell his story, he is not just depressed and depressing. He is sympathetic and delusional, smart yet hopeless. He ends up somehow strangely warm. And funny—really funny!

Alma Singer is equally complex and textured. She’s 15 and awkward, obsessed with books of her dead father’s about surviving in the wild. She sleeps in a sleeping bag on the floor of her NYC apartment and is constantly worried about her little brother Bird and his growing strangeness and religiousness. She has a huge crush on her Russian friend Mischa, yet when he kisses her she pulls back and tells him she likes another boy. He responds to the rejection the only way a 15 year old boy can, by moving on and not calling her. She mopes and secretly hopes for him to call everyday, meanwhile she searches every human record in NYC trying to uncover the secret behind Alma Mereminski, a character from a book and the woman she was named after. When Bird asks her questions about their Dad, she makes up things because she can’t remember and she wants to be able to give Bird something of their late father.

Other characters are equally captivating. Kraus manages to tell a most imaginative story full of countless coincidences, esoteric passages (it’s a book about books, writers and readers), and Holocaust survivors in a very heart-warming and accessible way. This book was both profound and charming—which was really nice to find in one place.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Kang (new)

Kang now wait just a minute. you can't start reading a book i told you about before i've started reading it. there has to be rules against that sort of thing.

Briana Sorry, I'm already half-way through. I started it because I read a few reviews of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that mentioned the similarities between the two books, and then I read an interview with Krauss that made me curious. At first, I'd say the first 30 pages, I thought it was much worse than her husband's newest novel. But, getting into the meat of it, she may just end up giving him a run for his money in my mind. I'm now really enjoying this book.

I was already reading her husband's book. I think its fair to say I would have stumbled upon this book on my own. Of course, you mentioning that it was telling that you had bought her book and I was drawn to his also piqued my curiosity. But, all's fair in love and war, isn't that what they say?

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