The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss
This book provokes strong reactions – some dislike the huge number of characters and ambiguous narrative. I loved it – for the wonderful characters, fresh language and sensitive feel. This quirky, powerful story may divide your group.
Several narratives develop simultaneously and alternately, several characters develop and intertwine and several ages are evoked all of which add up to a complex and successful interweaving of lives and stories.
Elderly Leo sits alone and isolated in his New York flat. He has lost all his family and friends. He is terrified of the strong possibility of dying alone, which prompts him to write out his details and planned funerary arrangements on a scrap of paper, to be carried at all times. Apart from occasional visits from equally elderly Bruno, who he contacts via tapping on the hot water pipes in the apartment block, or trips to a life drawing class to pose as a nude model, Leo is utterly alone. The solitude allows him to assess his life and the hand fate has dealt him and his tale of love, loss and survival is both unique and, I suspect, similar to many others of those who fled the Holocaust. Leo is a heartbreaking mix of pride, bravery, humour and pathos. As the daughter of a very elderly father, I felt both sadness and wonder at Leo’s struggles - the small significances, small details of a good man’s life and the tiny imprint he makes on this world.
But this is only one narrative in The History of Love. Elsewhere in the novel, an obscure and fascinating book, also called ‘The History of Love’ is being translated by teenage Alma’s bereaved mother and the whole nature of creative writing is assessed in detail.
Krauss’s novel has evoked passionate responses, including criticisms of the baffling narrative and ambitious cast. For me, this did not detract from the dazzling characterization and sheer range of people conjured up. Alma’s young brother Bird is a wonderful creation. Krauss’s superb writing both amazed and moved me and personally I would like to take Leo home, listen to his stories and cook him supper…but that’s another story.
Read our interview with Nicole Krauss.