Everyday Magic in The History of Love: Background information when reading Great House

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Great House

A Novel

by Nicole Krauss

Great House by Nicole Krauss X
Great House by Nicole Krauss
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2010, 289 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2011, 289 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Beyond the Book:
Everyday Magic in The History of Love

Print Review

Although Nicole Krauss's three books to date would not be classified as magical realism (a style, according to Wikipedia, wherein, "normal occurrences… are presented in a straightforward manner, which allows the 'real' and the 'fantastic' to be accepted in the same stream of thought") there is in her books an element of the magic that exists in everyday life. These occurrences are no less magical for being easily written off as coincidence, or ascribed to déjà vu or the smallness of the planet.

For example, in The History of Love (2005), Krauss's second novel after Man Walks Into a Room (2002), Leo Gursky, a young Polish man fell in love with a beautiful woman named Alma in the late 1930s. He was so enraptured by her that he wrote a book called The History of Love and named the heroine Alma. As the Nazis marched into Poland, Leo was forced to leave Alma, his family and the unpublished manuscript behind. He immigrated to the United States and began an apprenticeship with his locksmith cousin, eventually taking over the business. Leo never married, and now, retired in his eighties, lives alone in a tiny New York apartment. Afraid that he might die unnoticed he makes a point of going out everyday and making himself known. Whether it's by dropping his change all over the floor at the coffee shop or by taking a job as a nude model for an art class, Leo must be seen.

Across town 14-year-old Alma Singer is struggling with a mother who seems afraid to move on with life since the death of her husband. As a literary translator she leads a cerebral life, seldom leaving the house. When her mother is offered an exorbitant fee to translate a book called The History of Love from Spanish to English young Alma tries to play matchmaker. She's certain the anonymous client who wants to read her mother's favorite book (Alma is named after the book's heroine) is a perfect love match.

What ensues is all brought about by something that, like the desk in Great House, ties these people together in ways that can easily be explained away as coincidence. No hand of God. No inexplicable forces. Krauss writes about the mundane kind of magic that everyone experiences from time to time.

Article by Donna Chavez

This article was originally published in October 2010, and has been updated for the September 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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