I mentioned last week that this week's contribution to the YA Buccaneers Summer Reading Challenge was going to be one of my favorite books. I'm pleased to report that I found Nicole Krauss's THE HISTORY OF LOVE every bit as lovely and thought-provoking and heartbreaking the fourth (or fifth?) time around as I did on first read. If you haven't read this book, go get it now! It's a relatively slim novel that is so packed with beauty and meaning that you'll want to read it again and again—like I do.
THE HISTORY OF LOVE is a book about a book, also titled The History of Love. The novel-within-the-novel is magical realism, full of love stories that always come back to a single girl: Alma. Krauss tells her story from multiple points of view: a lonely old man, Leo Gursky, who escaped from the Nazis and made his way to New York City; a teenager from Brooklyn, named Alma after the character(s) in The History of Love, the book that brought her parents together; Alma's little brother, Bird; and a third-person narrator who gives more detail about The History of Love's author, Zvi Litvinoff. Each voice is unique and flawless.
I don't want to reveal all of the ways in which these stories intertwine, but everything starts with the book. For instance, Alma's father has passed away from pancreatic cancer, leaving her mother a shell of her former self. When her mother gets a commission to translate The History of Love into English, Alma decides to learn more about the man asking for the translation, and then to learn more about the book and its author. THE HISTORY OF LOVE twists and turns, bringing its characters together in unexpected ways and giving new meaning to seemingly inconsequential details right up to the end. And that ending…the last few pages make me cry every time. They're just so lovely.
Since this book is a reread, I have to mention how the story opens up more with each pass through it. One new facet that became more clear to me this time around is the way Jewish culture pervades the story. Leo uses an array of Yiddish expressions. Thanks to my husband and his family, I now understand those terms and their emotional interpretations much better than I did the first time I read the book. Similarly, Alma's mother and father met in Israel, and thanks to my trip to that country a few months ago, I felt like I could visualize and understand those references better, as well. Each time I pick up THE HISTORY OF LOVE, it's like I uncover another layer, and this time, with the Israel trip still fresh in my mind, I couldn't escape the spiritual and secular Jewish themes.
I don't know what else to say, other than: Read this book!
(And yes, the first chapter, from Leo's point of view, can be a challenge. Push through it. I promise, you won't regret it!)