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A poignant celebration of life and language

  • Apr 20, 2005
This remarkable novel is a paean to the strength of the human spirit, the nature of language and the yearning for connection. Leo Gursky has lived in stunning loneliness for most of his life. He has loved but one woman devotedly, a girl he grew up with in the old country. When she leaves for America, he stays behind to see his entire family annihilated by the Nazi's. Years later, after living as a refugee, he too comes to America, only to discover she has married, believing him dead in the pogroms.

Leo has escaped through writing since childhood, stories of real people, of the impossible, pages that fill the long, quiet hours. He is an old man remembering his first book, lost along the way years ago. Now he craves only to be seen by others, to be acknowledged in the world every day: "All I want is not to die on a day that I went unseen." With his damaged heart, Leo waits for the Angel of Death to appear and take him away.

In New York, Alma Singer grows up adoring her father, but he dies of pancreatic cancer when she is only seven. The bereft family is three, Alma's younger brother, Bird, an increasingly religious child who believes he may be the Messiah and her beautiful mother who cannot recover from the loss of her beloved husband. Brilliant with languages, her mother spends hours translating books to support the family, never leaving the house, withdrawing into memories of her love: "She chose my father, and to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world."

Alma is named after all the women in a small, but poignant book, "The History of Love". By some otherworldly coincidence, Alma's father gave this tome, written in Spanish, to her mother when they met. Now her mother has been commissioned to translate the book into English sending off a few chapters at a time. Alma surreptitiously reads the chapters before they are mailed, hoping for a clue to their benefactor's nature. The book is revelatory, written with exceptional insight and compassion, the lovely Alma at the heart of it: "Her answer was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering".

As she reads the pages, Alma is transformed, awakening a deep yearning in her soul. She begins a search that will open the doors of the past, releasing years of loneliness and regret and reach across generations: from the pogroms of the Jews in their homelands to the cosmopolitan city in South America where the book is published; to America, where lost souls wander the streets, their quiet lives passing with sparse comfort, where fathers and sons never meet, where a woman grieves, a young boy prays to be the Chosen One and a girl finds her way to the one person who will extinguish the burning in her soul.

Beautifully written, with exquisite sensitivity and compassion, The History of Love will open your heart, fill you with the bright light of understanding and leave you enriched for the experience. This gifted author has created something extraordinary, not a novel, but a journey into the chambers of the human heart. Luan Gaines/2005.

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January 04, 2011
Wow! This sounds like a poignant and sad read. I might have to check this out in the near future! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with Cafe Libri.
About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #109
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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Nicole Krauss'sThe History of Loveis a hauntingly beautiful novel about two characters whose lives are woven together in such complex ways that even after the last page is turned, the reader is left to wonder what really happened. In the hands of a less gifted writer, unraveling this tangled web could easily give way to complete chaos. However, under Krauss's watchful eye, these twists and turns only strengthen the impact of this enchanting book.

The History of Love spans of period of over 60 years and takes readers from Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe to present day Brighton Beach. At the center of each main character's psyche is the issue of loneliness, and the need to fill a void left empty by lost love. Leo Gursky is a retired locksmith who immigrates to New York after escaping SS officers in his native Poland, only to spend the last stage of his life terrified that no one will notice when he dies. ("I try to make a point of being seen. Sometimes when I'm out, I'll buy a juice even though I'm not thirsty.") Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer vacillates between wanting to memorialize her dead father and finding a way to lift her mother's veil of depression. At the same time, she's trying to save her brother Bird, who is convinced he may be the Messiah, from becoming a 10-year-old social pariah. As the connection between Leo and Alma is slowly unmasked, the desperation, along with the potential for salvation, of this unique pair is also revealed.

The poetry of her prose, along ...

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ISBN-10: 141934224X
ISBN-13: 978-1419342240
Author: Nicole Krauss
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

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