Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky
When you start reading the History of Love by author Nicole Krauss, the main character, Leo Gursky, will break your heart. In short order you learn he is an old man, living alone, basically waiting to die, but does not want to die on a day when he hasn’t been seen by someone.
So he goes about his days doing things to ensure someone sees him — buying juice even though he’s not thirsty and then dropping his change on the floor, or going to the movies and buying popcorn and spilling it onto the floor to make a scene, because he doesn’t want to leave this life without being noticed by someone.
Then, through snippets of backstory interwoven into Leo’s present day story, you learn that as a young man he had been madly in love with a young girl who lived in the same village as him in Poland and had written three books, until the holocaust happened and took it all away in very short order.
Leo finds his way to New York, where he ends up working with his cousin, a locksmith. Eventually, he decides to go look for Alma, his long lost love, whom he knows is also living in the same city.
Unbeknownst to him, when Alma’s family had sent her to America at the start of the holocaust, she had been pregnant with his child. But, believing Leo to be dead because his letters had stopped coming to her, she marries her boss’s son, and starts a family and new life with him.
Leo does find her, but now, with two young children, a husband and a different life, she can’t go with Leo, as he begs her to do before finally accepting her decision and leaving. Instead, he opts to keep tabs on his son, who is named Isaac, and eventually he becomes the writer Leo could have, and should have, become.
Then there is 14-year-old Alma, whose mother, a lonely widow, has been hired by the mysterious Jacob Marcus to translate a book, “The History of Love” from Spanish into English and has a character, Alma, in it. The character is, in fact, Alma’s namesake, her father having given the Spanish version to her mother many years before.
The modern-day Alma, driven by a desire to possibly unite her mother with the man who hired her to translate the book, sets out to find out more about the book, its writer and the characters within it.
This quest makes Alma the tie that binds so to speak, as it is through her and her drive to find answers, that these characters and their stories come together.
In this work, Krauss has written a truly beautiful story of love, loss and loneliness and what it means to be human. Thankfully, throughout the story, she also interjects some humor, which helps the reader bear some of the truly sad scenes and stories that are revealed.
The History of Love is a powerful and moving story you will not soon forget, and, if you’re like me, one you will probably find yourself pondering long after turning the last page.