It has been decades since Leo Leo Gursky first surrendered his heart, then wrote a book about it--at the tender age of 10--and he's been in love with the same person ever since. Leo believes his book is lost to time, but what he doesn't know is, not only has it survived 60 years without him, it has also been an inspiration to others. Fourteen-year-old Alma was even named for a character from the book. When she realizes how deeply the story touched her lonely mother, she embarks upon a search for answers.
"When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF SH*T."
I laughed in self-recognition. Oh
The History of Love is filled with this wry, self-deprecating humour. But it is also about serious stuff. I'll leave that to you to find out what it is. It's filled with stuff that makes you think. I like that.
For example....I liked this section.....it made me think....
"People became addicted to feeling. They struggled to uncover new emotions. It's possible that this is how art was born. New kinds of joy were forged, along with new kinds of sadness. The eternal disappointment of life as it is; the relief of unexpected reprieve; the fear of dying." (p. 107)
"There were other refugees around him experiencing the same fears and helplessness, but Litvinoff didn't find any comfort in this because there are two types of people in the world: those who prefer to be sad among others, and those who prefer to be sad alone." (p. 155)
My copy of The History of Love is only new. It was a Secret Santa gift from a dear new friend in the Librarything Virago Group. But it looks battered and beaten now. A testament to being dragged from beside my bed to the beach and back. It has been chucked on the front seat of the car while I drive to rescue teenagers from taxi ranks and retrieved from the bottom of a beach bag filled with late Christmas presents for distant nieces and nephews. It's had sand poured from it and half hearted attempts to flatten out pages which have then had their corners turned down to remember the good bits.
In short it has been well loved.
Not convinced yet? Read the six pages of laudatory reviews in the front of the Norton edition - if you must. It was the only thing I didn't like about the book. I thought it was a bit much. A bit over the top. Who's going to read all that? Don't waste your life. Read the book instead.
OK, if you are still with me, I'll try to share just a bit about this book. Krauss intertwines the stories of
So, the plot is intriguing. (It reminds me a little of [The Shadow of the Wind] actually.) And the characters practically jump from the pages, coming to life with only a few details. But I think it is the writing that made this a memorable read for me. Krauss writes a story that I sank into everytime I picked up the book. I was sorry to turn the last page.
I highly recommend this book!
Alma Singer is a teenager in NYC, who was named after a character in The History of Love. Her father has died and she is searching - searching for someone for her mother to fall in love with, searching for a real friend, searching for more memories of her father, and searching for the real story behind The History of Love.
The story jumps around between these 2 narrators, Alma's brother Bird, Zvi Litvinoff, the published author of The History of Love, and excerpts from a very bizarre book. At times, I found myself very lost, not knowing context, characters, or even time and place. But I'm glad I stuck with it. Although there are parts of the story that are improbable, it is beautifully told. This is defintely a book that shines in audio. Narrated by different people, the parts told as Leo Gurksy (read by George Guidall) are perfect. He is cantankerous, crochety, funny and very real. tap tap.
Additionally, I felt as if I had to ignore some of the parts that didn't neccesarily matter to the overall storyline in order to follow along with what was going on. It's definately one of those books that you have to go back and re-read a second or third time to really understand the entire plot and to appreciate it.
So, if you're a fan of writing that is gorgeous in its own right, then you'll still get something out
While complex and beautiful, this story took great care to weave the lives of multiple characters together in a very satisfying way. In an effort to not give away the ending, all I can say is that the entire story feels like it's waiting for the ending of the story, when the reader can see all the plot points finally slide together. Altogether, I found the story haunting, revealing, thought-provoking, and beautiful. Difficult at times to follow in audio, the novel was one that needed careful attention. I genuinely appreciated and enjoyed The History of Love, and would readily recommend it to any serious reader.
During most of the book, I felt lost
“Yesterday I saw a man kicking a dog and I felt it behind my eyes. I don’t know what to call this, a place before tears. The pain of forgetting: spine. The pain of remembering: spine.”
Krauss takes on a major challenge in her characters…she voices a World War II survivor, a fifteen-year old girl, a twelve-year old boy and a few others…and makes them authentic. Their voices are very clear and very convincing.
From Leo, the old man: “If we do talk, we never speak in Yiddish. The words of our childhood became strangers to us – we couldn’t use them in the same way and so we chose not to use them at all. Life demanded a new language.”
He’s experienced such grief, such horrors in his life that he was never able to fully live it.
“After she left, everything fell apart. No Jew was safe. There was rumors of unfathomable things, and because we couldn’t fathom them we failed to believe them, until we had no choice and it was too late.”
He remains trapped in the past, searching for that which he lost, and creating the answers that he can, either through words or imagination.
While I believe Leo is truly the main character of the book, for it is about him that the major revelations are made – I was drawn more to Alma, the girl who is searching for answers about her life after the death of her father. Where Leo has had many years to search and reflect and live, she is still trying to find a way in the world, some idea of how to become her own person.
Her voice is at times so childlike and bewildered…but there is an underlying strength that leads one to believe that given time, she will get where she needs to go.
“It wasn’t that far, so I decided to walk, and while I did, I imagined rooms all over the city that housed archives no one had ever heard of, like last words, white lies, and false descendants of Catherine the Great.”
There are not many answers to be found in “The History of Love”…but the questions that are asked and the way they are phrased should be familiar to us all. Is the end of a search finding the answers or the way that we change while we are searching? Will we ever truly find that which we seek or will we become someone whose life is defined by our journey?
“And then I realized that I’d been searching for the wrong person. I looked into the eyes of the oldest man in the world for a boy who fell in love when he was ten.”
Or is the search for love the one journey that defines us all?
I packed the kids off to Grandma's this weekend, so I had the whole day to
"To call him a Jewish writer," he added, "or worse, an experimental writer, is to miss entirely the point of his humanity, which resisted all categorization."
I loved the narrators Krauss created. Leo and Alma (and Bird) seemed so real to me that I felt I was inhabiting their world today. And I loved their voices. And the stories, the way they entwined.
One of my favorite parts of the book was the bit entitled The Age of Silence and the desription of how gestures were the first language:
No distinction was made between the gestures of language and the gestures of life.
Beccause of the frequency of these mistakes, over time the gesture for asking forgiveness evolved into the simplest form. Just to open your palm was to say: Forgive me.
The book was so heartbreaking. And yet. I found it full of life and love too. Beautifully, beautifully written. I will keep this one and reread it someday.