Thursday, May 18, 2006

In Praise of "The History of Love"

Did you ever finish a book and say to yourself, "That was one of the best books I have ever read, but I really didn’t understand a lot of it, so I’ll just have to read it again"? As I read the last page of Nicole Krauss’s first novel, "The History of Love", that’s exactly what I said and I relished starting all over again.

It’s hard to believe this is such a young author because her prose is mature well beyond her years. The story traces The History of Love as it is penned in Yiddish in Poland by Leo Gursky, travels to South America where it is translated and published in Spanish by Zvi Litvinoff, bought by David Singer in Buenos Aires (who names his daughter Alma after the main character in the book), and is finally translated into English by Alma Singer’s mother (while she mourns the loss of her husband) at the request of Isaac Moritz (who happens to be the son of the book’s Alma and Leo Gursky, who never met his father). Now do you understand my confusion? But the story is so well told that you never feel concerned by the fact that you have totally lost the story line. The compassionate interplay between the young Alma and her brother Bird (who thinks he might be the Messiah) would have actually made quite a good book in and of itself.

Here’s just a sample of the language of the book that draws the reader in like a magnet:

Of the two thousand original copies printed of The History of Love, some were bought and read, many were bought and not read, some were given as gifts, some sat fading in bookstore windows serving as landing decks for flies, some were marked up with pencil, and a good many were sent to the paper compactor, where they were shredded to a pulp along with other unread or unwanted books, their sentences parsed and minced in the machine’s spinning blades. Staring out the window, Litvinoff imagined the two thousand copies of The History of Love as a flock of two thousand homing pigeons that could flap their wings and return to him to report on how many tears shed, how many laughs, how many passages read aloud, how many cruel closings of the cover after reading barely a page, how many never opened at all.

He couldn’t have known it, but among the original run of The History of Love, at least one copy was destined to change a life – more than one life.

Have your read The History of Love? Did it touch your life?


Blogger KassyK said...

That is actually next on my list! Thanks for the wonderful recommendation. Read The Year of Magical Thinking and Night...both highly recommended and finishing up DRY right now. :-)

But I have to say the book that touched me the most in the past few years was The Astronauts Wife...Did you read/enjoy that?

10:15 PM  
Blogger KassyK said...

Wow APOLOGIZES--I meant to write The TIME TRAVELER's wife. :-)

10:19 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Yes, I did read The Time Traveler's Wife this past year and I loved it. There are some similarities between that book and The History of Love. In both you simply have to let yourself believe the story line to be carried along. Both books run the gamut of emotions. Thanks for the other recommendations. Got any good recommendations for a couples' book club? I was actually thinking of recommending The History of Love if I don't come up with anything better.

Have you read either of the books by Nicole Krauss's husband Jonathan Safran Foer -- "Everything is Illuminated" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"? Both great reads!

10:59 PM  
Blogger RennyBA said...

I haven't red the book, but thanks for the reminder as I would love to read it.

3:16 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

My stepmom keeps telling me to read it. I guess I'll really have to do it. Soon!

3:23 PM  
Blogger KassyK said...

I havent read the second but I did read Everything is Illuminated and I adored it...beautiful, sad, lovely books. Hmm couples club books--well they arent in the same vein but I find the men and women alike both equally adore all works by:

David Sedaris
Augusten Borroughs


3:37 PM  
Anonymous Robin said...

It was on my to-read list, and then Rabbi Manewith recommended it in her column, so I'm definitely going to read it soon!

5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did read A History of Love, and it I too felt that it changed my life. It came at such a low period and I was looking for some answers -- and when I was done I felt that it had given me some -- though I still can't say exactly what they are. Perhaps, something about the eternal yearning of love -- its power to change, hold, transform. To turn louts into poets, to give hope that carries us through things.

12:16 PM  

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