Nicole Krauss's tragic-comic novel The History of Love (2005) has been called a book of love and loss, a mystery, and a great literary work. Through vaguely connected storylines, it follows the lives of an old man, Leopold Gursky, and a young girl, Alma Singer. The thing that ties their lives together is a novel that Leopold has penned called The History of Love. Krauss's novel and Leo's novel are intertwined creating a lively novel-within-a-novel text.
The novel begins with an introduction to Leopold, who has suffered two devastating, emotionally crippling personal loses that make him feel invisible. First, he has lost the only woman he ever loved. Then he watches his only son grow up and then die without ever knowing him. He stands on the street corner at times, wondering if anyone notices him. Gursky often does things to force other people's acknowledgement of his existence, such as spilling food on himself or dropping money all over the floor. He even volunteers to work as a nude model because he likes the feeling of being studied. Gursky is both a comic and a tragic figure.
Alma Singer has no such problem about being seen, but visibility does not matter to her one way or the other. What Alma wants is to find a man for her mother to love. At least, that is her motivating force in the beginning. Alma's father died several years ago and ever since then her mother seems to be perpetually sad. In the process of her search for a husband for her mother, Alma makes some interesting discoveries, including the woman for whom she was named. That woman is the only love that Leo Gursky ever had, the woman he writes about in his novel, The History of Love.
As the story unfolds, the two main characters move closer and closer to one another. At the end, they finally meet.
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 other main character of this novel is Alma Singer, a young teenager who has been named for the Alma in Leo's The History of Love. Alma's...
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