Saturday, February 13, 2010

BookLook Review "The History of Love"

“The History of Love”

After a few years, you start to look alike. I’m talking about husbands and wives. Unfortunately it started for us on our wedding day while eating lunch with our families a sweet little old lady referred to me as Mark’s sister. Humorous true story although at the time I didn’t think it was as funny as everyone else around the table. Not only can you look alike, but spouses may start writing alike if they aren’t careful. “The History of Love” is a wonderfully imaginative book written by Nicole Krauss. It would have seemed more fresh and original if I hadn’t so recently read her husband’s book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” which also featured an old locksmith and a young teen searching for father-clues in New York City. I listened to Krauss’s novel on CD and would highly recommend this venue with several superb voices to enhance the literary experience.

Leo Gursky wrote a book after falling in love with Alma at age ten before the Nazis invaded Poland. They both survived and escaped to America but were forever separated. Sixty years later he still yearns for his lost love and wonders what happened to the book he gave to a friend for safe keeping. Leo has a dark sense of humor about old age and loneliness. His fear of dying unseen causes him to draw attention to himself in public by spilling coffee or buying juice he doesn’t want, just to be seen. He even answers an ad for a nude model to be sure that he doesn’t leave the world unnoticed. The actor reading “The History of Love” pronounces Leo’s Yiddish words with a Bronx accent swimming in spittle. A picture emerges for the listener of a balding man with wispy white hair shuffling down the sidewalk wearing a short-sleeved plaid cotton shirt tucked haphazardly into pants that are now too large for his dwindling frame.

The other main character is fourteen year old Alma who was named for the character in Leo’s lost manuscript. She struggles to help her disturbed young brother and her lonely mother. When the family lost their father, they were cast adrift without an anchor. Young Alma discovers her name in a Spanish novel her mother has been hired to translate and embarks on a quest to bring the author and her mother together.

The complete cast includes characters spread across time and continents caught up in the tale of humor and sadness, and love and injustice. How could life be so unfair? This is the universal question Krauss brings to her unforgettable concluding scene. Although there are style and story similarities between the author-spouses, I thought this was a brilliantly written book – for better or worse.

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