The History of Love
By Nicole Krauss
W. W. Norton and Company 2005
From my shelves
Leo Gursky is an elderly man who is incredibly alone. With the exception of his upstairs neighbor Bruno, he is pretty certain no one knows if he is alive or dead. So he purposefully draws attention to himself, dropping his change at the store and showing up to model in the nude for a figure drawing class. Alma Singer is a young girl named for a character in the book The History of Love. She is on a mission to find new love for her widowed mother and perhaps find the connection she is so desperately missing. Their lives will collide in ways that neither Leo nor Alma could have ever imagined.
The characters in this book are incredibly vibrant. We get great contrast in Leo, a lovably grouchy old man, and Alma, a young girl with endless belief in life's possibilities. I really enjoyed spending time with each of them. Leo seems stereotypical, but he has such heart. His life has been long and difficult and he has lost so much. In spite of this he goes through each of his days, content with the small world he inhabits. Conversely, Alma's world is expanding rapidly. She hoards information, learning about paleontology, how to survive in the wild, and how to deal with your first crush. She is awkward but determined, and quickly finds a way into readers' hearts with her records of her life under headings such as "If I had a Russian accent, everything would be different" and "The things I want to say get stuck in my mouth."
Krauss utilizes a very unique style in her books. Alma's story is told through her notebook entries, while Leo narrates the events of his life from the first person. There is also a third, unknown omniscient narrator who fills in some of the gaps of the overarching story. The story can be difficult to follow because the reader is dealing with Alma's life in the present, Leo's life in the present, his memories, and the history related by the unknown narrator. It can be difficult to follow the different threads and ultimately it feels disconnected.
I've read Krauss' Great House and now The History of Love. I found that I enjoyed both of her highly acclaimed novels. They are quiet and lovely and always thought-provoking. I love how Krauss deconstructs the myth of the author. Her tales feature characters who make great sacrifices for their work and show us how a single story can make an incredible impact. In spite of this, I find myself unchanged when I finish her books and the stories quickly fade from memory.