History of Love, Nicole
Krauss manages to keep control over an intricate structure involving
the separate chronicles of her two main characters, excerpts from a
book within the book, and a mystery.
When Leo Gursky was a young man in Poland, he wrote a book called The History of Love in which he named all the female characters for his love Alma. A plagiarized copy was published in Spanish in Chile. David Singer found it in a used bookstore and gave it to his wife-to-be. They named their firstborn Alma.
Not surprisingly, Leo Gursky and Alma Singer eventually come together. First, though, Krauss has to tell their individual stories. She creates an original, genuinely believable voice for each of them as they narrate their respective chapters.
Cantankerous yet charming, the elderly Leo is direct and funny. He had fled the Nazis and ended up in Manhattan, only to find that his Alma, thinking him dead, was raising their son with another man. Leo stays true to Alma and never marries, sadly watching from a distance as his son becomes a famous writer and then dies young.
Typical of her age, Anna Singer writes in diary form, but her observations are well advanced of a typical teen’s. Like Leo, she is mourning; her father died when she was seven. She lives in Brooklyn with her withdrawn mother, Charlotte, and bizarre brother Bird. Her only friend is a Russian immigrant boy.
When Charlotte is asked to translate The History of Love into English, Alma is propelled to find out about the mysterious man who made the request and then about her namesake, who she is certain really existed. Suspense builds as in a mystery novel as she figures out detail after detail about the earlier Alma, a quest that eventually brings her and Leo to a bench in Central Park for a heart-wrenching meeting.
Interspersed between the Leo and Alma chapters are excerpts from the plagiarized The History of Love, an imaginary chronicle of human affection. Kraus weaves the different threads together in a conclusion that feels both sad and hopeful.
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