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.
As most books go, this one was recommended to me by a coworker who had to read it for a literature class. I had nonchalantly asked her if she had heard of it; her eyes widened and she clutched her heart in shock that I hadn’t read it yet. I went out the next day and checked it out of the library.
The History of Love is told from the point of view of three different characters who switch off chapter to chapter. Leo Gursky, a Polish man who came to America during the war, a man who loved a girl when he was young and never quite got over her. Alma, a fourteen year old girl who recently lost her father and is clinging to the pages of his favorite book, a book that gave her her name and that her mother is currently translating to English. Last, but not least, an un-named “historian” (for lack of a better word) who tells the tale of the author of the book within the book also titled The History of Love. All three narrations are unique and have distinct voices, you never once get confused on who is speaking at the time. The symbols before each chapter and at the top corners of the pages help, if for some strange reason you can’t tell an older Polish man from a fourteen year old girl from New York.
Now, I have to say that I have been shooting myself in the foot recently with my book choices. I have been reading all of these great books but they have such crazy plot twists which makes it hard for me to talk about the books at any great length. This book is one such book but I feel I may be able to divulge some things without ruining the plot. When you first meet Leo Gursky you think he is a strange little Polish man who enjoys getting in people’s way and is afraid of dying. Then when you find out that he was in love when he was a younger man in Poland and that he was a writer (and a damn good one at that) your heart warms to him and he becomes as dear to you as your own grandfather. Alma. Alma I loved from the very start. You feel for her over the loss of her father and the fact that she feels she needs to protect her brother, Bird, from the world. If I talk about Alma I have to talk about her brother. Bird is a secondary character but I found myself fascinated with him and I wish that he had more of a central role in the story. There isn’t much to say about Mr. No Name historian. He moves the story along and fills in plot points that otherwise wouldn’t have been filled by Leo Gursky or Alma.
I really enjoyed this book and will pick up others by Ms. Krauss. You close the book wanting more from Leo and Alma, Bird and Mr. No Name. I would’ve gladly have read another couple hundred pages with these characters that I loved. That being said, I believe that she ended the journey right where it needed to end and she did it beautifully.