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.”