295 of 311 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Miraculous Journey of Love and Chance
Nicole Krauss's astonishing novel about a manuscript that survives the Holocaust, a flood, broken friendships, a plagiarist, misunderstanding, and obscurity has all the heart and intelligence of the best fiction being published today. Elderly Leo Gursky is afraid of dying unnoticed, and he plans his days so that people will see him and remember him. Among other schemes,...
Published on September 24, 2005 by Debbie Lee Wesselmann
74 of 87 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag
As most of the reviewers for Nicole Krauss' "History of Love," I found her novel to have some good strong points and some flaws that ran from shallow to deep (I guess that the major discrepancy between the five star and three star reviews is how annoyed you were by the flaws and how forgivable you found them to be). So what was good about it? I loved her tone -- smooth...
Published on September 1, 2006 by Gregory Baird
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295 of 311 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Miraculous Journey of Love and Chance,
Nicole Krauss's astonishing novel about a manuscript that survives the Holocaust, a flood, broken friendships, a plagiarist, misunderstanding, and obscurity has all the heart and intelligence of the best fiction being published today. Elderly Leo Gursky is afraid of dying unnoticed, and he plans his days so that people will see him and remember him. Among other schemes, he makes a scene in Starbucks and poses nude for a drawing class. Leo wasn't always this lonely. Decades before, in a small town that was then part of Poland, he fell in love with a girl named Alma. He wrote a book about her before the two fled at different times and circumstances to safety during World War II. Despite the disappointments in his life, Leo continues to write, convinced that he will die when this next book is finished. Meanwhile, a teenager also called Alma, named after a character in a book titled The History of Love by a Chilean named Litvinoff, finds herself in the heart of a mystery: her mother is hired by a mysterious man named Jacob Marcus to translate The History of Love from Spanish. Since Alma's father passed away years before, her mother has been overcome with sadness, and Alma sets out to find Jacob Marcus as a possible suitor. Oblivious to Alma's quest, her brother Bird has decided he is one of thirty-six holy men, a "lamed vovnik", and might even be the Messiah. And then there's Litvinoff himself, in the past, with his personal story and connection to the manuscript and to Alma and to his own beloved Rosa. The stunning coup of this novel is how Krauss brings these diverse elements into a single, concluding moment.
Krauss has complete command of a story that could get away from a lesser novelist. Witty, sometimes sadly funny, with unforgettable off-beat characters, the novel draws in the reader from the first page, although its true strength isn't evident until the last hundred pages. The comparison of The History of Love to Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is inevitable, since the two authors are married and both books were published in 2005. While the two works echo each other in parts, use similar postmodern techniques, and concern themselves with related themes, Krauss and Foer are too good to be lumped together. Still, these seem like companion books. The History of Love is every bit as inventive and as emotionally riveting as Foer's novel - and vice versa - but it (as does Foer's novel) seems to wink at readers who have read both. Readers familiar with Foer's book will smile as Leo reveals that he is a retired locksmith who can open any door he wants. And the set-up of a young person, missing his/her dead father and searching New York for clues to solve a mystery will seem familiar. Beyond that, however, these books stand alone as remarkable works about people, both immigrants and natives, who are adrift in contemporary America.
This exceptional novel deserves a wide readership. Highly recommended.
397 of 427 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but flawed,
This book is very similar in both content and tone to Jonathan Safran Foer's latest book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It's interesting to note that Foer and Krauss are husband and wife.
Summary, no spoilers:
This novel is told from the point of view of several narrators.
The first, and best narrator, (the parts that feature him are brilliant), is Leo Gursky. Leo lives by himself in New York. He was born in Poland, and fell in love with a girl named Alma. They vowed to spend their lives together.
Due to the war, Leo and Alma were separated, and Leo has spent his life alone, pining for Alma.
The other main narrator is a young girl also named Alma, who has lost her father to pancreatic cancer and lives with her young brother and mother. All have been terribly damaged by his death.
Although we occasionally get other narrators, the story is essentially told by these two wounded individuals. Alma tries to find the woman for whom she was named, and Leo tries to become a part of the living world, and become a part of his son Isaac's life. And all of this centers around a mysterious book entitled The History of Love.
This is a gorgeous book. Like Foer's novel, this book is funny, sad, and quirky. At times a bit too quirky.
I thought the chapters involving Leo were terrific. The book starts out with Leo's narration, and hence the book starts out on a powerful note.
Although I enjoyed the character of young Alma, the chapters involving her were often odd, and sometimes slowed the pace of the story.
Still, this book is worthy of 5 stars, and it would make a wonderful book club choice...there is a lot to discuss.
So who has the better book, Foer or Krauss? My vote goes to Krauss, who wrote a page turner that has a better flow, and is more accessible than the Foer's work.
78 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely faithful and incredibly pure,
The History of Love is a great novel. Plotted with exquisite precision, propelled by deeply sympathetic characters, and crammed full of mysteries and solutions, this book lights up neural networks you never knew you had. Besides recounting the stories of a 15 year old girl and a Holocaust survivor, Krauss's novel is also the story of a book (The History of Love). What it says about books is just as important as what it says about love, even if it isn't going to make the end-of-paper movement at cartel Microsoft very happy.
Nicole Krauss understands books to be what no other medium is: self-contained, tough, mobile over continents and generations and languages, full of the future as inscribed by a piece of someone's soul. The History of Love (the novel within the novel) has a provenance that would make a Rembrandt painting blush: written in Poland, manuscript given away then stolen, conceived in Yiddish, translated to Spanish, published in Argentina, found by a Jewish traveler, given to his wife, secretly translated into English, discovered by a 15 year old girl in New York, AND MORE. In Krauss's telling, none of this is random, and even though characters act unaware of each other, the larger plan somehow manifests G*d in the lives of the Living. Why don't I just write it: according to Krauss, when the soul of the writer is pure, a book becomes an immanent sacred object. And in that way, books are a lot like love, only rectangular and full of numbered pages.
If we esteemed writers by what their novels hold faith with, Nicole Krauss would sweep this year's fiction awards. Besides her faith in the power of the written word, there's faith in the integrity and goodness of young outsiders, in the quest to redeem history in old age, in the ability of human beings to shape their own destiny no matter how complicated and compromised, and in the presence of love as an active agent for good in the universe. Last, but not least, Krauss has faith that writers can change the world through writing. If they can, and she has, then we're just a little better off today than we were before The History of Love came into the world of readers.
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Multi-Literary Styles Bring Life to Tale of Love and Loss,
A book within a book generally reveals itself as a literary conceit by a writer intent on showing his or her craft to an audience deemed too cynical for more straightforward prose. However, author Nicole Krauss has written an emotionally rich novel that uses this binary structure to illuminate two extremely different interior lives. The first is Leo Gursky, an eighty-year old Jewish man who survived persecution in WWII Poland before moving to New York City, where he leads a sad, involuntarily invisible existence. In the confusion after the war, he lost the great love of his life, as well as the son he never knew, who in turn, has become a famous and respected writer. The other protagonist is a fatherless fifteen-year old named Alma. She was named for a character in the Spanish-language book-within-the-book, "The History of Love", which was a favorite of her parents since her father bought it in South America expressly to give to her mother before his death.
As fate would have it, Alma's mother is asked to translate this book into English, and Alma becomes obsessed with her namesake character. The common thread for both Leo and Alma is that they are each searching for someone - Alma for the inspiration for the character in the book and Leo for his long-lost son. The lives of these characters finally intertwine but not in any predictable way, and much of the credit has to be given to Krauss' creative invention for taking such a daring approach in dealing with a plot device that could have fallen prey to condescending manipulation. What the author does very well is capture the transformative nature of literature in all its variety, whether it takes the form of entries in Alma's diary, letters, lists, translations or excerpts from an autobiography. Krauss uses these distinctive writing styles to define each personality vividly, and she is particularly successful in capturing the loneliness experienced by Leo as he tries to gain others' attention and the insatiable curiosity Alma has for her family background.
Comparisons to Krauss' husband Jonathan Safran Foer's just-published book, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" are inevitable, as both authors incorporate a child's perspective in a world that proves itself too overwhelming to synthesize, and both use WWII Poland as a metaphor for the current sense of chaos and loss of identity. Perhaps because she is not dealing with the weightier implications of 9/11, Krauss is more successful in telling her story, as this may be the best multi-linear book I've read since David Mitchell's masterful "Cloud Atlas" came out last year and nearly won the Booker Prize. Strongly recommended.
54 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love "History",
"He was a great writer. He fell in love. It was his life." While those are the final words of Nicole Krauss's illuminating second novel, "The History of Love," those three short sentences only highlight what I knew all along. This a unique book, haunting and quietly funny, and which leaves you thinking about memories, about death, and about love.
Leo Gursky has a weak heart, and may die at any moment. Virtually no one knows him, and his own son never even knew of him; he drops his change and buys things, just so someone might remember him when he dies. Sixty years ago, he fled Nazi-occupied Poland to pursue a childhood sweetheart to America, but she thought he had died, and married someone else.
Before that happened, Leo wrote a exquisite ode to her, called the "History of Love," a fictional look at love's origins, its milestones, and at a mysterious girl called Alma. A copy of that book found its way into teenage Alma's household, and she was named after that mysterious woman. Now, as her grief-stricken mother translates one of the few copies into English, Alma sets out on a journey of discovery -- about the mystery author, the person who wants the translation, and the mysterious original Alma.
Nicole Krauss writes much like her husband Jonathan Safran Foer -- she also takes a look at the past and present, at immigrants, and at the journies of our elders. And the insights she shows about the nature of love, and the intersections of life and literature, are startlingly deep. Many longtime authors can only dream of such delicate sensibilities.
The writing itself is surprisingly fluid, considering that Krauss changes narrators and timeframes several times, and sometimes refers to one character by different names. She also changes her style, depending on the narrator -- the old man has a more rambly style, while Alma neatly compiles her thoughts into numbered lists.
All the stories of death, loneliness and memories could be depressing. But Krauss injects them with gentle humor, such as Alma's brother Bird, who thinks he might be the Messiah (yeah, right, kid). There are also surprisingly poignant passages from the "History of Love" itself, which offer tiny insights into Leo's past love. Never sentimental, never maudlin. Just quietly, sadly romantic.
"The History of Love" is a truly exquisite piece of work, an insightful novel that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Definitely one of 2005's must-reads, and a beautiful read.
74 of 87 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag,
This review is from: The History of Love (Paperback)
As most of the reviewers for Nicole Krauss' "History of Love," I found her novel to have some good strong points and some flaws that ran from shallow to deep (I guess that the major discrepancy between the five star and three star reviews is how annoyed you were by the flaws and how forgivable you found them to be). So what was good about it? I loved her tone -- smooth and melancholic but also humorous. I also loved her quirky cast of characters: elderly eccentric Leo Gursky (who is so lonely that he often drops his change in stores on purpose just so people will look at him); survival-obsessed Alma Singer -- a fifteen-year-old girl who had to grow up too quickly after her father died and her mother fell into a depression; and Bird, Alma's little brother who believes that he may be his generation's messiah. The plot, about how these lives intertwine and, eventually, collide thanks to a novel Gursky had written years earlier also called "The History of Love," is another aspect of Krauss' book that I loved. What I didn't love is how Gursky's eccentricities, in some parts, seem just plain ridiculous -- reminiscent of Teri Hatcher's pratfalls on "Desperate Housewives". I also didn't love the way Krauss sometimes tries a little too hard to be quirky, and the way that the plot gets a little convoluted in the second half. But what I really just didn't like at all is the ending, in which all of the storylines just peter out without much resolution at all. It's one of those endings that leaves you frustratedly asking yourself "And ... ???? What happens next? Why did I bother reading this book when it had no intention of satisfying my curiosity in the end?" Not a good feeling to leave a book with, especially when, as with this one, it had so much promise.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Positive Review, with one issue,
I too think this is a very accomplished and ultimately enjoyable book. I wish the narrative had been more straightforward, though. Unfortunately, the author seems to fall back on some MFA techniques, which I don't think really serve her. She fragments the narrative, telling a handful of stories that she comes and goes from throughout the book. Right at the end she whittles it down to the two main characters almost switching from one to other line by line. Could be interesting, but at that point in the book it feels forced and unnecessary. We know these two characters are about to finally meet each other. Why pretend that there's more drama in the moment than there is? Especially, why do that when there's so much natural drama in that moment? It's there in the story she's told, so the technique, in this reader's opinion, gets in the way of the story.
I call this an MFA thing because it seems like the sort of thing that comes out of MFA programs. Literary writers - especially young ones - seem to have been warned off narrative. Instead of telling a story in a straightforward manner from beginning to end they cut and splice it, hoping that the many parts add up to a satisfying whole. I think they also hope that this will hide the flaws in their writing. (See anything by Kathryn Harrison for an example of this.) It rarely makes for a better novel, although it can occasionally. (For an example of one that really works see Dan Chaon's You Remind Me of Me.)
My problem with this in Krauss' case is that she's a talented storyteller. There aren't that many flaws in her writing. Behind the structure is a series of marvelous stories. She has a very inventive, imaginative vision to here. At times she shows flares of an almost Milan Kundera-like sort of brilliance. I loved the sections directly from the History of Love, and I'd probably read that as a stand alone volume, if she could pull it off in its entirety.
When I say I wish she'd told the story in a more straightforward manner it's actually a high compliment. Her story is good enough that she doesn't need to hide it behind anything, or shade portions of it from scrutiny. She is the real thing, and her writing will be even stronger when she fully trusts in it and gives us her prose without relying on writerly crutches.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poetic Prose, but a Little Confusing,
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This review is from: The History of Love (Paperback)
Some of the more lyrical passages in this novel are breathtaking, and the basic story line is an intriguing one. However, the plot twists and turns with flashbacks and different narrators that are difficult to keep track of at times. That said, it's one of very few novels that I KNOW I will reread someday. One piece of advice: it's best not to put the book aside for a few days, but rather read it straight through with only short breaks. Trying to recapture the story is challenging. It's not a light beach read, but perhaps a good read for a long, holiday air trip when you have no distractions.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I often wonder who will be the last person to see me alive",
Believe the hype. The History of Love is one of the most original and engaging pieces of literary fiction of the past year. The novel focuses on a book entitled The History of Love, written by Leo Gursky at age twenty in Slonim, Poland, to honor Alma Mereminski, with whom he has shared an extraordinary love. When the Nazis threaten Poland and Alma has to flee, Leo, unsure if he will escape, gives his book for safekeeping to his best friend, who is sailing to Lisbon. Leo eventually makes his way to New York, where as a locksmith, he is a "man who became invisible." His book about Alma has vanished.
Leo's story unfolds through his memories and moves back and forth in time, running in parallel with the story of Alma Singer, a 14-year-old girl named for a character in a Spanish-language book entitled, coincidentally, The History of Love, which her father bought in Valparaiso, Chile, and gave to her mother when they were newlyweds. Young Alma, lonely following her father's death, spends her days writing How to Survive in the Wild, in an attempt to control the uncertainties of her life, while her brother Bird, eleven and a half, loses himself in religion, believing he may be the Messiah. Their mother becomes a translator of books.
Gradually, the characters and their stories converge, and the reader learns how a book written in Polish came to be published in Spanish in Chile, then translated into English by Alma's mother for a client living in Venice. The relationships of the characters as they age, their attitudes toward life and love, and their goals for the future create a fluid thematic structure in which characters spring to life and become the primary focus.
Using humor, absurdity, and a variety of points of view, Krauss creates profound emotion and sympathy for these characters as they deal with absurd reality, always keying her unique imagery to their particular points of view. Ultimately the reader recognizes that Krauss's novel, like Leo's book, illustrates the many different kinds of love. With an opening page guaranteed to pique the interest of even the most jaded reader, this confident novel, written with assurance and panache, is fresh and full of charm, a novel illustrating in unique ways some of the oldest themes in literature. Mary Whipple
51 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A poignant celebration of life and language,
This remarkable novel is a paean to the strength of the human spirit, the nature of language and the yearning for connection. Leo Gursky has lived in stunning loneliness for most of his life. He has loved but one woman devotedly, a girl he grew up with in the old country. When she leaves for America, he stays behind to see his entire family annihilated by the Nazi's. Years later, after living as a refugee, he too comes to America, only to discover she has married, believing him dead in the pogroms.
Leo has escaped through writing since childhood, stories of real people, of the impossible, pages that fill the long, quiet hours. He is an old man remembering his first book, lost along the way years ago. Now he craves only to be seen by others, to be acknowledged in the world every day: "All I want is not to die on a day that I went unseen." With his damaged heart, Leo waits for the Angel of Death to appear and take him away.
In New York, Alma Singer grows up adoring her father, but he dies of pancreatic cancer when she is only seven. The bereft family is three, Alma's younger brother, Bird, an increasingly religious child who believes he may be the Messiah and her beautiful mother who cannot recover from the loss of her beloved husband. Brilliant with languages, her mother spends hours translating books to support the family, never leaving the house, withdrawing into memories of her love: "She chose my father, and to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world."
Alma is named after all the women in a small, but poignant book, "The History of Love". By some otherworldly coincidence, Alma's father gave this tome, written in Spanish, to her mother when they met. Now her mother has been commissioned to translate the book into English sending off a few chapters at a time. Alma surreptitiously reads the chapters before they are mailed, hoping for a clue to their benefactor's nature. The book is revelatory, written with exceptional insight and compassion, the lovely Alma at the heart of it: "Her answer was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering".
As she reads the pages, Alma is transformed, awakening a deep yearning in her soul. She begins a search that will open the doors of the past, releasing years of loneliness and regret and reach across generations: from the pogroms of the Jews in their homelands to the cosmopolitan city in South America where the book is published; to America, where lost souls wander the streets, their quiet lives passing with sparse comfort, where fathers and sons never meet, where a woman grieves, a young boy prays to be the Chosen One and a girl finds her way to the one person who will extinguish the burning in her soul.
Beautifully written, with exquisite sensitivity and compassion, The History of Love will open your heart, fill you with the bright light of understanding and leave you enriched for the experience. This gifted author has created something extraordinary, not a novel, but a journey into the chambers of the human heart. Luan Gaines/2005.
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