Book Review: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

By Catherine Oseas Champion | Archives and Manuscripts Department, Central Library 

Leopold Gursky, Holocaust survivor, is a lonely old man who dreams of his long-lost love Alma Mereminski and survives each day with the desire to just be noticed by someone. He has one single soul he can call a friend in this world, Bruno, his “old faithful.”

Alma Singer is a 14-year-old-girl who lost her father and who aches for the mother who can barely get out of bed and make it to the next day. Alma and her brother, Bird, have each other, but Alma needs her mother to be happy and live in this world once again, not simply getting by with just her memories. Then comes the day when Alma’s mother is asked to translate a book called The History of Love—the very same book that Alma’s father gave to her mother all those years ago and the one that provided the inspiration behind Alma’s own name. Alma begins a quest to find a partner for her mother and becomes involved in researching the background of this book.

We also meet Zvi Litvinoff, a Polish refugee living in South America. Litvinoff, too, suffers from his own private sorrow and grief, but is the fortunate recipient of loyalty and love from a woman named Rosa. Litvinoff has achieved some fame in his life with the publication of his book, The History of Love. There it is again, that book…The History of Love.

Nicole Krauss’s novel The History of Love exudes such a feeling of loneliness and loss. However, there are moments of humor. Of course, love is a central theme in this book—love for a soul-mate, love for a mother, love for a son, love for a father, and love for the friend who helps you get through each day. The writing often quite lyrical. After reading this, it struck me that one cannot simply survive on memories alone, no matter how precious those memories may be. Trying to sustain oneself with the past keeps us from really living in the present.