The basics: Told in alternating narratives, The History of Love is the tale of two people: Leo, a Polish refugee living in New York who longs for his lost love, Alma and the lost novel he wrote about her, The History of Love; and another Alma, this one a teenager who was named after the Alma in the novel who is on a quest to find her namesake.
My thoughts: When I read Great House (my review) last fall and was underwhelmed with the story, many trusted friends told me I should read The History of Love because it had the same great writing with a much better story. Granted, my expectations were high because I utterly adored Krauss's writing in Great House, but I didn't love The History of Love either.
There were some beautiful passages:
There were other refugees around him experiencing the same fears and helplessness, but Litvinoff didn't find any comfort in this because there are two types of people in the world: those who prefer to be sad among others, and those who prefer to be sad alone. (p. 155)For a novel about love, it completely lacked joy. The prose was filled with pain and longing for all the characters, and these emotions made this short novel feel heavy.
Some themes in this novel resonated with me more loudly because I read Great House first. Krauss uses many of the same themes in both novels, and this passage in particular could easily appear in either novel:
"To call him a Jewish writer," he added, "or, worse, an experimental writer, is to miss entirely the point of his humanity, which resisted all categorization." (p. 78)It could also be what Krauss hopes for herself. She is a Jewish writer, and I would consider her an experimental one, as she uses distant time, places and objects to draw connections. The overarching focus of both novels is one of humanity and its expression through literature.
My reaction to this novel is heavily influence by my reaction to Great House. The two seemed like companion novels to me, and I'm curious if the next Nicole Krauss novel continues these themes or strike out into new territory.
Favorite passage: "There are so many ways to be alive, but only one way to be dead." (p. 232)
The verdict: Nicole Krauss is a writer I wish I liked more than I actually do. The History of Love is a meandering tale of interconnected characters whose paths cross in fascinating ways. Despite her strong writing, I still found myself enjoying the idea of this novel much more than the novel itself.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 252 pages
Publication date: May 2, 2005 (it's in paperback now)
Source: gift as part of the Book Blogger Holiday Swap
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