Thursday, November 30, 2006

Book #47 - The History of Love

by Nicole Krauss

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2006
Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Believing that she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man named Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the lost love who, sixty years ago in Poland, inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn’t know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives…
When I started reading about Leo and Alma in The History of Love, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved with its aging Jewish man, writing his memoirs, also called Leo. Then there was the young Alma in Oates’ The Tattooed Girl, working for an eccentric Jewish one-time novelist, told in alternating points of view. All 3 books were set in New York too. Is it a common theme for women authors to write about old Jewish men in New York? Of course that’s totally simplifying things and all 3 books were very well-written; I enjoyed them immensely. It just struck me as an interesting overlap of ideas in books I've read in the last couple of years.

For me,
The History of Love, was the slightest of these three, it didn’t move me as the other two did, but it was still a beautiful book about coping with loss, and “about the way in which books can change people’s lives” (from Guardian Interview).

I loved Leo’s sections, sadly funny, as he spills his coffee, or his change, or models nude for a drawing class, all to keep from dying on a day when he went unseen. A very memorable character.

It took me to at least halfway through the book before I started to see how the various threads might come together and it’s definitely a book that would suit rereading. I’m sure I’d get more out of it a second time. I have yet to read either of Foer’s books, although I plan to, so it’ll be interesting to see the similarities there that the critics have made much of.

My Rating: 4/5
“So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves.”


  1. I just bought this book so glad to hear from yet another source that it's a worthwhile read.

  2. Terrific review. You write well, so concise and using just the right word. I'm envious. You probably already know this, but The History of Love is one of my favorite books of all time. I haven't read the two you referred to, but I'm adding them to my list.

  3. Lesley, it's definitely worth the read. Hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

    booklogged, aww you're too kind. I'm not very good at writing reviews and often struggle over what to say, so thank you.
    Not everyone likes Oates but I quite like dark sometimes. What I Loved by Hustvedt was really good. I think you might like it. There's a lot there, lots of layers. It's another one I really should read again sometime. The History of Love also reminded me a bit of Paul Auster's writing. Have you read anything of his?

  4. This one's still on my wish list. Fabulous review, Nat. Now you've made me even more anxious to read the book (and I didn't think that was possible). I've yet to read What I Loved, but I have a copy of it. Will try to get to that one, soon. Thanks for a terrific review!!!

  5. Nancy, so many books it's hard to fit them all in, isn't it?
    I'll be interested to hear what you think of both of them when you get to them.

  6. I've got this on my list, too! I'm itching to buy right away after reading Booklogged's and your reviews. I've also had What I Loved on my list for ages. I think it was Andi who first raved about it, but maybe it was you. Either way, they're both must reads for me. Lovely review. Thanks!

  7. I loved your review. Those little things that Joe used to do so as to not go unnoticed were just so heartbreaking. And, how funny that you had read some other books that sort of overlapped. I keep hearing about Siri H.'s book and am going to have to give that one a go.

  8. Les, Andi's been very vocal about SH so you probably heard about it from her. I've read all 3 of her fiction books and they were all good.

    Iliana, Leo was a great character. I would laugh and feel sorry for him at the same time.


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