Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But it wasn’t always like this: in the Polish village of his youth, he fell in love and wrote a book. . . . Sixty years later and half a world away, fourteen-year-old Alma, who was named after a character in that book, undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With virtuosic skill and soaring imaginative power, Nicole Krauss gradually draws these stories together toward a climax of “extraordinary depth and beauty” (Newsday).
I've been trying to branch out with the books I read so I do not tire of young adult novels completely, and since I've heard so much acclaim for The History of Love I thought I'd start my "adult" book reading with it. I read it on my plane ride back to school, which turned out to be a perfect setting since it meant I had ample time to focus on just how wonderful it is.
It's difficult to discuss The History of Love because it is made beautiful by the writing just as much as it is by the various story lines, if not more so I think this book's most popular line truly sums up what makes this book so lovely:
“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”It's a succinct, lyrical line, and yet it manages to evoke such powerful imagery and emotion. Even the more lengthy passages perfectly encapsulate this book's focus on love using beautiful writing, though:
“Maybe the first time you saw her you were ten. She was standing in the sun scratching her legs. Or tracing letters in the dirt with a stick. Her hair was being pulled. Or she was pulling someone's hair. And a part of you was drawn to her, and a part of you resisted--wanting to ride off on your bicycle, kick a stone, remain uncomplicated. In the same breath you felt the strength of a man, and a self-pity that made you feel small and hurt. Part of you thought: Please don't look at me. If you don't, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.”It's hard to believe that the whole book is this magnificent, but it truly is. I was sitting on my plane wishing I had a highlighter handy so I could mark so many parts of what I was reading, because there are so many parts that capture the beauty and heartache of love.
It isn't just the writing, though. This book's structure and story lines are fantastic. There are multiple narrators, and for the longest time, Leo and Alma and the rest of the cast seem so far away from each other in lifestyle and in story, but as the book unfolds more and more parallels arise, establishing relationships that are both surprising and exciting. I wish I could say more, but the magic of this book is seeing how everything comes together in the end after such an emotional, beautiful journey there.
Book details: W.W. Norton and Company/Paperback/$14.95