The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

3867Opening Lines:  “When they write my obituary.  Tomorrow.  Or the next day.  It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF SHIT.

I knew right away that I was going to like this book.  Within the first few pages, I was smiling to myself and reading bits to my husband (whether he liked it or not).  This is not to say that the book is a comedy, because it isn’t.  It’s a love story.  And by love story, I don’t mean a romance novel, I mean it’s a story about love.

The book starts out being narrated by Leo Gursky, who I fell in love with right away.  He’s grumpy, funny, and unpredictable.  When the other characters came along, I wanted to hurry back to Leo Gursky.  He is an old man who has led a sad and lonely life, which we hear about along the way.  Once, he considered himself a writer.  And once, he was in love.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl , and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.

But at this point in his life, all he wants is to “not die on a day that he has gone unseen”.  He describes all the antics he undertakes to be sure people notice him.  He purposely drops his change.  He tries on shoes that he doesn’t intend to buy.  He even answers an add in the paper to model nude for a drawing class.  But little does he know that life has one last adventure for him.

The other main narrator of the story is a girl named Alma Singer.  She’s trying to solve the mystery of the book within this book called The History of Love.  She thinks that it might be the key to her mother’s happiness.  But instead, it leads her to something else.

I loved reading the excerpts from the book within the book.  The opening chapter is called The Age of Silence, in which it is said that the first language humans had were gestures.  There is also The Age of Glass, in which it is said that everyone believed “some part of him or her to be extremely fragile”.   In The Age of String it is said that “there was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide the words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations”.

So many words get lost.  They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves.

The practice of attaching cups to the ends of the string came much later.  Some say it is related to the irrepressible urge to press shells to our ears, to hear the still-surviving echo of the world’s first expression.  Others say it was started by a man who held the end of a string that was unraveled across the ocean by a girl who left for America.

My favourite is The Birth of Feeling.

Feelings are not as old as time.  Just as there was a first instant when someone rubbed two sticks together to make a spark, there was a first time joy was felt, and a first time for sadness.  For a while, new feelings were being invented all the time.  Desire was born early, as was regret.  When stubbornness was felt for the first time, it started a chain reaction, creating the feeling of resentment on the one hand, and alienation and loneliness on the other.

Having begun to feel, people’s desire to feel grew.  They wanted to feel more, feel deeper, despite how much it sometimes hurt.  People became addicted to feeling.  They struggled to uncover new emotions.  It’s possible that this is how art was born.  New kinds of joy were forged, along with new kinds of sadness:  The eternal disappointment of life as it is; the relief of unexpected reprieve; the fear of dying.

Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist.  There are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination.  From time to time, when a piece of music that no one has ever written, or a painting that no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom, or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world.  And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges, and absorbs the impact.

There are a lot other things I’d like to say about The History of Love, but I don’t want to give any of the story away.  But I will say that there are many more wonderful words to read in this book, too many for me to include here, so you will just have to read it yourselves.

Here are few more good ones:

Even when I rotate it (the plant) so that what faced the sun no longer faces the sun, it stubbornly leans to the left, choosing against physical need in favor of an act of creativity.

I tried to make sense of things.  Now that I think about it, I have always tried.  It could be my epitaph.  LEO GURSKY:  HE TRIED TO MAKE SENSE.

The truth is the thing I invented so I could live.

I knew I was imagining it.  And yet.  I wanted to believe.  So I tried.  And I found I could.

I thought this story was lovely and imaginative.  I would recommend it to anyone.  I am going to miss Leo Gursky.

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10 thoughts on “The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

  1. Cecilia says:

    I agree – that’s quite a captivating opener! I know of a sad old man in my life and am always interested in stories about how the elderly come to terms with their lives and choices. This sounds like a good one – will put it on my TR list!

    • Naomi says:

      I also find it interesting to wonder about the lives of the elderly. Are they happy with their life? Do they have many regrets? Do they wish they had done things differently? As I live my life, I try to keep in mind that, someday, I’ll be one of them.

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