Krauss's The History of Love begins with Leopold ("Leo") Gursky, who constantly ponders his own death.
Leo had written three books by the time he turned twenty-one, and while he lived in Poland. His last book, called The History of Love, was about Alma, his childhood girlfriend. Leo wrote it for Alma. After she left Poland for the United States, he would send passages of the book to her. Leo never intended to publish this book. Concerned that he might be captured by the Nazis, before fleeing Poland, Leo gave the manuscript to a friend, Zvi Litvinoff, and asked him to hold it for him.
Leo goes to the United States. When he finds Alma, she tells him that she had been pregnant with his child when she left Poland, and that a man took pity on her and married her. Alma and Mordecai Moritz now have a son of their own. Alma explains that she had written to Leo and was committed to waiting for him, but Leo never answered her letters. Leo did not answer because he never received them. It was a time of war. The Nazis had overtaken Poland and were killing all the Jews. Leo's mother had told him to hide in the forest and she would meet him later. She never came. Leo spent three years eluding the Nazi before coming to America. His cousin, a locksmith, had taught him a trade. He wanted Alma to come live with him, but she would not consent.
In the present time, Leo is an old man. He has had a heart attack and does not expect to live much longer. He decides to write again. Leo has never married but has, from a distance, followed the development of his son, Isaac. Leo used to stand outside Isaac's school to catch a glimpse of him. Now Isaac is a professional writer. Leo has read all of Isaac's books.
When Leo completes his autobiography, he sends the 301-page manuscript to Isaac. Leo waits but never receives a response from his son. One day, Leo sees an obituary. Isaac has died.
Leo goes to Isaac's funeral and mentions to Isaac's half-brother, Bernard, that he knew Alma. Bernard invites him to his house after the funeral. There Leo sees a picture of Alma and himself when they were teens. He stuffs the picture under his clothes and leaves. Later, Leo, using his skills as a locksmith, breaks into Isaac's now-empty house. He puts on some of Isaac's clothes and rummages through the house, fruitlessly looking for signs that Isaac has read his life story.
(The entire section is 1053 words.)
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The History of Love (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Nicole Krauss, an acclaimed poet who has worked on her verses with Joseph Brodsky, negotiated a six-figure deal to write two books after her first novel, A Man Walks into a Room (2002), garnered rave reviews. An excerpt from The History of Love, called “The Last Words on Earth,” was published in The New Yorker in February, 2004; subsequently, Krauss sold the book rights to The History of Love in almost twenty countries and the film rights to Warner Bros. studios.
The History of Love is the title of a book within a book. Some people’s lives have been wrapped by the book, which has shaped their destinies. The reader enters that magical world, and it opens views to other worlds. The novel is about reading and writing, the way a book can change lives, love, and loss. Witty and emotional, it is also about nostalgia for the places one cannot revisit because they are lost forever. In the end, however, it is about living and survival, often creatively accomplished.
This ambitious and remarkable work depicts unconventional life journeys; its themes include love lost but never forgotten, human destiny charted by the atrocities of war, and loneliness of the “invisible” people. Leopold Gursky survives the massacre of the Jews in his native village of Slonim, in Poland, by hiding in the woods for more than three years. His girlfriend Alma Mereminski, the love of his life, escapes to the United States....
(The entire section is 1532 words.)