During a frenzied charity-shop-bag-drop at Oxfam a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to see Nicola Krauss’ The History of Love perching snugly on the shelf, just a day after listening to her on the Radio 4 Bookclub. Woopee. It immediately went on my Wish List and after reading this beautiful story I am looking forward to delving into her other offerings when I get the chance.
Alma Singer is a loving, imaginative, resourceful child growing up without a father in New York. Desperate to fill the gap that this terrible loss has left in her mother (and brother’s) heart, Alma embarks on a mission to make a connection with a mysterious writer who commissions her mother to translate The History of Love. This profound and eccentric book that Alma’s father bought for her mother on a trip to South America (portions of which we are fortunate enough to be able to read here) inspired the name for their daughter and now it seems, holds the potential to carry her family a little further…
Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, 80-something pensioner Leopold Gursky is living out the final years of his life, milking this quiet period by spending time with his ‘friend’ Bruno and sitting for life drawing classes whilst musing on the more painful experiences in his life; the great losses he suffered during the Holocaust and the lack of relationship with his unwitting son, Isaac, a bestselling novelist.
At the risk of delving into any convoluted storylines myself, all I will say is that the object that essentially brings these two wonderful characters together is The History of Love (this is a book within a book – now concentrate please!) and this concept alone is simply perfect for a book FIEND such as myself. How utterly romantic. Weaving and wiggly as the storyline is, everything does come together at the end and Krauss’ style of writing at least kept me on my toes over my morning coffee on the way to work. Love, loss and finding the words to express these powerful emotions seems to be the focus here and it makes for compelling reading.
This was a bittersweet experience and the closing (I want to say ‘scene’? I regularly found myself imagining what this is going to look like as a film next year) …the closing scene actually moved me to tears. Along with this I found myself belly laughing at some of Leo Gursky’s antics – growing old with gusto and not much grace, I found him the most compelling character of the book whose lonely but equally hilarious ramblings were simply wonderful. He is massively vulnerable yet has huge amounts of love and grief and comedy within him and I LOVED him. LOVED him.