I recently reread one of my favorite books. If I love something I tend to consume it multiple times and never get bored with it. “The History of Love” was first published in 2005 by Nicole Krauss and I’ve read it no less than half a dozen times. Add it to your library today!
The History of Love spans several decades about a manuscript that travels the world and ends up in New York City. The story is told from the point of view from several narrators. Leo Gursky is an elderly man living alone in New York wondering if he’ll wake up the next morning. Many years ago, in Poland, Leo fell in love with a young girl named Alma. He began writing a book about her and the two pledge to spend their lives together. Soon, in order to flee to safety during World War II, the two go their separate ways, and Leo spends the rest of his life pining away for Alma.
Also in New York is a young girl named Alma, named after every character in Zvi Litvinoff’s book, A History of Love. At the beginning of the story, Alma has just lost her father to cancer and is looking for a new suitor to make her mother happy. Alma begins the search for the woman for whom she was named and begins to uncover a great mystery.
And then finally there’s Litvinoff, in the past, with his story and connections to The History of Love and his own love, Rosa. All of these characters tell a story that even as you turn the last page you’re wishing it were longer. Krauss is able to weave the stories together so distinctly that when they do finally make their way together you can’t believe how it all makes sense. The parallels of Leo and Alma are so consistent and clear — they’re both immigrants who are adrift in contemporary New York.
The best part of the book was not the actual novel inside the novel — if it was, Krauss would have written that story instead — but the author’s love of the written word. She believes in the written word and in the faith and goodness of others. We are all moved by love, and Krauss realizes this and makes her characters, who are not blinded by love, but yearning for love, find their own destinies by holding onto that last bit of love that will forever remain with them. It’s something that they will never let go of — Leo with the memories of his Alma and Alma with the memories of her dad.
My favorite quote pretty much sums up the whole book and can be found in the first few pages:
“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend 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… For her sixteenth birthday he gave her an English dictionary and together they learned the words.”
A few more of my favorite quotes:
“Maybe the first time you saw her you were ten. She was standing in the sun scratching her legs. Or tracing letters in the dirt with a stick. Her hair was being pulled. Or she was pulling someone’s hair. And a part of you was drawn to her, and a part of you resisted–wanting to ride off on your bicycle, kick a stone, remain uncomplicated. In the same breath you felt the strength of a man, and a self-pity that made you feel small and hurt. Part of you thought: Please don’t look at me. If you don’t, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.”
“And if the man who once upon a time had been a boy who promised he’d never fall in love with another girl as long as he lived kept his promise, it wasn’t because he was stubborn or even loyal. He couldn’t help it.”
“The truth is the thing I invented so I could live.”
“Part of me is made of glass, and also, I love you.”
“When I got older I decided I wanted to be a real writer. I tried to write about real things. I wanted to describe the world, because to live in an undescribed world was too lonely.”
“…An average of seventy-four species become extinct every day, which was one good reason but not the only one to hold someone’s hand.”
“He wondered if what he had taken for the richness of silence was really the poverty of never being heard […]. How could he have forgotten what he had always known: there is no match for the silence of God.”
“…and at the table next to her was a little boy in a soccer uniform sitting with his mother who told him, The plural of elf is elves. A wave of happiness came over me. It felt giddy to be part of it all. To be drinking a cup of coffee like a normal person. I wanted to shout out: The plural of elf is elves! What a language! What a world!”
“When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, Leo Gursky is survived by an apartment full of shit”