“The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss
“This is the book I would have written for you if I could write.” (108)
Reading Nicole Krauss’ “The History of Love” parallels reading a love letter you thought you lost long ago, one full of so many anecdotes and stories that you know everything must have happened just as it was written. Indeed, Krauss writes “The History of Love” as much for us as she writes it for her beloved characters.
“The History of Love” is a book inside of a book, written first by Leo Gursky, a lonely man tussling with hope as he approaches the end of his life. Leo writes for Alma Mereminski, his Jewish lover in 1940s Poland. When Alma heads to America, Leo promises to meet her, sending her letters and his manuscript about their love to his friend Zvi Litvinoff.
In New York, Alma Singer, the curious daughter of her parent’s encompassing literary world, grapples with her father’s death. Through the copy Litvinoff translated to Spanish and published under his name while exiled in Cuba, Alma’s parents read “The History of Love” and name her after the main character.
Alma’s brother Bird, who believed himself one of God’s chosen people, entraps Alma Singer and Isaac, the child Alma Mereminski had by Leo after she began a new life in America.
Leo spent his life in America as a locksmith, watching from the sidelines as Isaac became a successful writer himself. Alma spends her time drifting through Manhattan with a Russian pen pal and picking up after her mother, who lives inside the literature she translates for a living.
These characters and their hopes and trials run throughout “The History of Love,” emblazoning a mysterious world of angels, the complexity of silence and the depth of fragility. Together, the characters and the text create a real account of love — in the eyes of all the people Krauss creates who have been loved and have loved, in the eyes of those who have not been loved but have tried to love, and in the eyes of those who understood love and those who did not.
Krauss crafts “The History of Love” not to humanity, but to a person. She crafts it to you as much as she crafts it to me; she shares these people and their stories with us and we can never forget them for it.
All great art, I think, is so personally crafted. Perhaps there are those among us who work for ideals like love, who die and lead lonely lives and feel pain because of something like love. But most of us do not care about love. We care about individuals. Krauss shows us the history of love is not the history of a romantic feeling or an ideal but the history of Leo Gursky, writing his pages, unlocking people’s doors, worrying about who will find him dead. It is the history of Alma Singer, reading her mother’s letters, decoding the book she was named from. It is the history of us, of our own individual stories and quirks, of our fragility and silence and triumph. It is the history of the individuals we meet and the fact that only through these individuals, whether fictitious or real, can we ever begin to understand these concepts at all.