Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The History of Love

I just finished The History of Love by Nicole Krause and it was beautiful.

It is a book within a book written by rotating narrators with entwining story lines that lead you down the crowded sidewalks of today's New York, through the darkened woods of Nazi-occupied Poland, and into a quiet coffee house in  post-war Chile.  The worlds Krauss builds are hazy and real at once, like the dream you can't be sure you weren't awake for.  I felt like I should go looking for the book from inside the book by the time I had finished reading! 

One of the narrators is Leopold Gursky, an aging holocaust survivor living in New York.  Also in New York we meet Alma, the young daughter of a widowed academic.  Her mother lives her life in a haze of depression, recreating her dead husband over and over while her children tumble up on their own.  Alma's brother, Bird, takes his turn at narrating as well from his point of view as one of 36 mystical lamed vovnik - he thinks he may be on the JV messiah team basically.  While he and Alma are trying to figure out their world with an emotionally absent mother, Leo Gursky is trying to prove to himself that he is still alive. In Chile, Leo's old friend Litvinoff, who escaped  before the Nazi invasion, spends years climbing around his lost life only to eventually make the decision that gives us our title.  The tangle of characters range from South America to Manhattan in independent stories that seem unrelated, and can even be slightly disorienting at first.  Everything comes together beautifully in the very last page, however, and we realize that everyone has been telling the same story from the start.

Krauss's prose is succinct and carefully layered so that I suspect even more connections would become clear on a second reading.  She puts together a world that somehow leaves the taste of hope behind, even when so many things have veered away from happy in the lives of her lovable yet bruised characters.  I highly recommend The History of Love!

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