The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss (2005).
Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spent his whole life answering. When they were ten he asked her to marry him. When they were eleven he kissed her for the first time. When they were thirteen they got into a fight and for three weeks they didn’t talk. When they were fifteen she showed him the scar on her left breast. Their love was a secret they told no one. He promised he would never love another girl as long as he lived.
Living in New York, 80 something Leopold Gursky spends his days dreaming of his lost love sixty years ago in Poland. He was a little boy living in a small village that no longer exists, she was the neighbour girl living in a house across the field from his house. Together they spend their childhood discovering everything there was to be discovered. Being inspired by this overwhelming love, he wrote a book about her, called ‘The History of Love’. Her name was Alma Mereminski.
Now in New York, Leopold is trying to be seen or noticed by anyone, anywhere. Spilling his coffee in Starbucks or volunteering as a nude model for a life drawing class, tapping the radiator to see if his neighbour and friend Bruno is still alive (3 taps; are you alive? – 2 taps: yes – 1 tap: no), he just wants to survive just a little longer than he already has. After all, how hard can it be to do that, having survived leaving Poland because of the Nazi’s, losing his one true love after he chased her all the way to New York, and having a son with her who doesn’t even know he exists?
On the other side of town lives a fourteen-year-old girl named Alma Singer. She is trying to find out more about the person she is named after, the protagonist in a Spanish book called ‘The History of Love’. The book was a gift from her father to her mother, bought in Chile, where the book was rotting away in an old bookstore. Slowly, Leopold and Alma’s stories become one, all because of the book Leopold wrote and lost when he went to New York.
The book is written in four perspectives: Leopold, Alma, Bird (Alma’s younger brother), and Zvi Litvinoff (an old friend of Leopold’s). One thing that makes this book a great book, and not just a good one, is the way in which all the characters come to life. All of the perspectives are written in a different style, which kept the book exciting and fun. The passages are a mixture of humor, nostalgic tragedy and an expedition to find the truth. From a moment of complete laughter, you can be brought to tears in just one page. The pain felt by the characters is very real and that is why you become so invested in the story. You really start to care for the characters and you just keep hoping everything will work out just fine.
While some people say that the way the story unravels, is too complicated and has too many twists to it, I loved the complexity of the book. I loved how untill the last page there were still things to be explained. And I loved how even after that, there are still some things Krauss left unexplained; they were for you to figure out. It is like a big puzzle that keeps you thinking everything through in the story to find out what actually happened. The mystery keeps you on edge and the not-knowing makes you want to read on.
This book by Nicole Krauss is really a magnificent piece of work. Thought the title suggests a tacky love story, this turned out to be anything but that. With this second novel, she really proved herself as a writer.