The History of Love by Nicole Krauss


Reading Matters described this story as being told from the points of view of an elderly Jewish man and a teenage girl; that convinced me to read it. Leopold Gursky’s voice was appealing and funny, the teenage girl less so; still, of interest.

It’s a complex story, that unfolds in a less-than-direct way.  Leopold Gursky lost both the love of his life, Alma, and the great book he wrote when he fled Poland for the US to escape the Nazis. Though he did not know it, Alma also escaped to New York and his book went with his friend Zvi Litvinoff to South America where it was published as Zvi’s work. How Leo learned near the end of his life that his book did still exist and affected (a few) other lives is the complicated story.

It’s all about the diversions, many of which escaped or mystified me; from reading reviews, I concluded there’s lots of “inside baseball” business, including connections with novels by her husband, Jonathan Safran Foer.

For me the beginning was the best diversion and here it is:

When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF SHIT. I’m surprised I haven’t been buried alive. The place isn’t big. I have to struggle to keep a path clear between bed and toilet, toilet and kitchen table, kitchen table and front door. If I want to get from the toilet to the front door, impossible, I have to go by way of the kitchen table. I like to imagine the bed as home plate, the toilet as first, the kitchen table as second, the front door as third:  should the doorbell ring while I am lying in bed, I have to round the toilet and the kitchen table in order to arrive at the door.

The teenage girl, Alma, is a part of the story because her father was one of the few to read the book and loved it so much that he named his daughter for the character, Leo’s beloved Alma. Her father died while she was young and she worked to learn more about the book itself partly to alleviate the continuing sadness she experienced because of his death and the resulting depression of her mother. And to round out the connections, her mother was paid to translate the book to English by the son of Leo and Alma. Got it?

Nicole Krauss, The History of Love, W.W. Norton and Company, 2005, 255 pages (I read the kindle version). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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