Summary and book reviews of The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

The History of Love

by Nicole Krauss

The History of Love
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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 252 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2006, 272 pages

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Book Summary

A long-lost book reappears, mysteriously connecting an old man searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother's loneliness.

Leo Gursky's life is just about surviving, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he's still alive. But life wasn't always like this: sixty years ago, in the Polish village where he was born, Leo fell in love and wrote a book. And though Leo doesn't know it, that book survived, inspiring fabulous circumstances, even love. Fourteen-year-old Alma was named after a character in that very book. And although she has her hands full—keeping track of her brother, Bird (who thinks he might be the Messiah), and taking copious notes on How to Survive in the Wild—she undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With consummate, spellbinding skill, Nicole Krauss gradually draws together their stories.

This extraordinary book was inspired by the author's four grandparents and by a pantheon of authors whose work is haunted by loss—Bruno Schulz, Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, and more. It is truly a history of love: a tale brimming with laughter, irony, passion, and soaring imaginative power.

THE LAST WORDS ON EARTH

When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF SHIT. I'm surprised I haven't been buried alive. The place isn't big. I have to struggle to keep a path clear between bed and toilet, toilet and kitchen table, kitchen table and front door. If I want to get from the toilet to the front door, impossible, I have to go by way of the kitchen table. I like to imagine the bed as home plate, the toilet as first, the kitchen table as second, the front door as third: should the doorbell ring while I am lying in bed, I have to round the toilet and the kitchen table in order to arrive at the door. If it happens to be Bruno, I let him in without a word and then jog back to bed, the roar of the invisible crowd ringing in my ears. I often wonder who will be the last person to see me alive. If I had to bet, I'd bet on the delivery boy from the Chinese take-out. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1.  Leo Gursky and Alma Singer make an unlikely pair, but what they share in common ultimately brings them together. What are the similarities between these two characters?
     
  2. Leo fears becoming invisible. How does fiction writing prove a balm for his anxiety?
     
  3. Explore the theme of authenticity throughout the narrative. Who's real and who's a fraud?
     
  4. Despite his preoccupation with his approaching death, Leo has a spirit that is indefatigably comic. Describe the interplay of tragedy and comedy in The History of Love.
     
  5. What distinguishes parental love from romantic love in the novel?
     
  6. Why is it so important to Alma that Bird act normal? How normal is Alma?
     ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Washington Post - Ron Charles

Even in moments of startling peculiarity, [Krauss] touches the most common elements of the heart. For Leo, obsessed with his death but struggling to be noticed, and for Alma, ready to grow up but arrested by her mother's grief, the persistence of love drives them to an astonishing connection.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

There are also two kinds of writers given to the verbal tangents and cartwheels and curlicues that adorn Ms. Krauss's vertiginously exciting second novel: those whose pyrotechnics lead somewhere and those who are merely showing off. While there are times when Ms. Krauss's gamesmanship risks overpowering her larger purpose, her book's resolution pulls everything that precedes it into sharp focus. It has been headed for this moment of truth all along.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Venturing into Paul Auster territory in her graceful inquiry into the interplay between life and literature, Krauss is winsome, funny, and affecting.

Publishers Weekly

Writing with tenderness about eccentric characters, she uses earthy humor to mask pain and to question the universe. Her distinctive voice is both plangent and wry, and her imagination encompasses many worlds.

Library Journal

Krauss develops the story beautifully, incrementally revealing details to expose more and more of the mystery behind Leo's book

Kirkus Reviews

A most unusual and original piece of fiction-and not to be missed.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Berg, author of The Art of Mending
Nicole Krauss is proof positive that great literature is being written today.

Author Blurb Myla Goldberg, author of The Bee Season
A book to be read slowly - both to savor the luminous prose and to stave off reaching the last page.

Author Blurb J. M. Coetzee, author of Elizabeth Costello
Charming, tender, and wholly original.

Reader Reviews

Adam Spiby

The History of Love
I adore this book. I feel that it captures the human condition in a way that no book I have read before manages to. I would say that the story is perversely hopeful and ultimately life affirming. I couldn't have consumed the final pages with ...   Read More

Aga Rzepecki

Read my review
My favorite book.

Valerie

Couldn't put it down...
I had heard of The History of Love through the grapevine, but didn't expect for it to be a book I couldn't put down. The first day I started reading it I read 175 pages, and barely managed to tear myself away from it then. Krauss' way of ...   Read More

A L Palmer

History of Love Fabulous
If you have even half a brain you will enjoy this book immensely. This is not a book for the lighthearted quick reader, even though it is only 250 pages - if you are looking for a trashy novel buy one AND this book. However, it is a compelling book ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Krauss spent her childhood on Long Island and has degrees from Stanford and Oxford.  Well into her twenties, she wrote poetry, which "felt like the great goal of the language (she was a lot like the 14-year-old narrator of The History of Love, Alma Singer, who wants to be a survivalist, compiles obsessive lists, and is an avid collector). Then she abruptly quit poetry having set aside "an impossible quest for poetic precision".

Her first novel, Man Walks Into a Room, was very well received and was followed by a six-figure, two-book deal. Speaking of her first book she says, "Getting a book published made me feel a little bit sad ...... I felt driven by the need to write a book, rather ...

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