If one were to judge from Krauss' characters, the history of love is a story of loss and survival. Budding writer Leo Gursky flees the Nazis unharmed but arrives in New York too late to marry his sweetheart. Brokenhearted, he becomes a locksmith (the source of lovely metaphors) and puts down his pen for 57 years. Just as he starts to write again, teenage Alma loses her father. She copes with her grief by reading up on how to live in the wild but worries about her bookish, increasingly isolated mother and Messiah-obsessed younger brother. Krauss, as so many have before her, including Steve Stern in The Angel of Forgetfulness [BKL F 1 05], constructs an intriguing books-within-a-book narrative. Leo turns out to be secretly connected to a famous writer. Another Holocaust survivor woos his beloved with an unusual manuscript, and Alma turns sleuth in her quest for the real-life inspiration for her namesake, a character in a novel titled The History of Love. Venturing into Paul Auster territory in her graceful inquiry into the interplay between life and literature, Krauss is winsome, funny, and affecting. (March 15, 2005)
A boy in Poland falls in love and writes a book when World War II arrives, and both the love and the book are lost. Leo Gursky, now in his eighties and living in New York City, struggles to be noticed each day so that people will know he has not yet died. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Alma Singer wants her brother to be normal and her mother to be happy again after the death of Alma's father. In a quest for the story behind her name, Alma and Leo find each other, and Leo learns that the book he wrote so long ago has not been lost. Krauss (Man Walks into a Room) develops the story beautifully, incrementally revealing details to expose more and more of the mystery behind Leo's book, The History of Love. At the end, some uncertainty remains about a few of the characters, but it does not matter because the important connections between them are made.
The last words of this haunting novel resonate like a pealing bell. "He fell in love. It was his life." This is the unofficial obituary of octogenarian Leo Gursky, a character whose mordant wit, gallows humor and searching heart create an unforgettable portrait. Born in Poland and a WWII refugee in New York, Leo has become invisible to the world. When he leaves his tiny apartment, he deliberately draws attention to himself to be sure he exists. What's really missing in his life is the woman he has always loved, the son who doesn't know that Leo is his father, and his lost novel, called The History of Love, which, unbeknownst to Leo, was published years ago in Chile under a different man's name. Another family in New York has also been truncated by loss. Teenager Alma Singer, who was named after the heroine of The History of Love, is trying to ease the loneliness of her widowed mother, Charlotte. When a stranger asks Charlotte to translate The History of Love from Spanish for an exorbitant sum, the mysteries deepen. Krauss (Man Walks into a Room) ties these and other plot strands together with surprising twists and turns, chronicling the survival of the human spirit against all odds. Writing with tenderness about eccentric characters, she uses earthy humor to mask pain and to question the universe. Her distinctive voice is both plangent and wry, and her imagination encompasses many worlds.
New York Times
BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Story Of a Book Within A Book
''There are two types of people in the world,'' one of Nicole Krauss's characters in ''The History of Love'' decides, ''those who prefer to be sad among others, and those who prefer to be sad alone.'' There are also two kinds of writers given to the verbal tangents and cartwheels and curlicues that adorn Ms. Krauss's vertiginously exciting second novel: those whose pyrotechnics lead somewhere and those who are merely showing off. While there are times when Ms. Krauss's gamesmanship risks overpowering her larger purpose, her book's resolution pulls everything that precedes it into sharp focus. It has been headed for this moment of truth all along.
One of this novel's many endearing conceits is that books are like homing pigeons. Zvi Litvinoff, a published author who plays a pivotal role in this story, has sent out 2,000 copies of ''The History of Love,'' a book-within-a-book that contributes to the hall-of-mirrors sensation here. He imagines what it would be like if those copies ''could flap their wings and return to him to report on how many tears shed, how many laughs, how many passages read aloud, how many cruel closings of the cover after reading barely a page, how many never opened at all.'' And while Ms. Krauss's ''History of Love'' is headed for wide popularity, Litvinoff's is an abject failure. Nineteen hundred ninety-nine pigeons vanish; only one mildewed copy attracts any attention. But that one disintegrating volume is enough to shape the destinies of everyone within Ms. Krauss's vibrantly imagined world. It travels from Europe to South America to New York. It prompts plagiarism, fuels imaginations, makes people fall in love. It envisions whole new chapters in human history, like an Age of Silence during which hand gestures were the only means of communication. This was a time when the scratching of a nose could be easily misconstrued to mean ''Now I realize I was wrong to love you.'' This obscure ''History of Love'' contains all the world's deepest secrets -- or so it seems to 15-year-old Alma Singer. When Alma's parents named her, they took to heart a line from the moldering ''History of Love'': ''The first woman may have been Eve, but the first girl will always be Alma.'' Now Alma's father is dead, and her mother has been hired by a mysterious stranger to translate the book, which was originally written in Yiddish, from Spanish into English. This amounts to one of the simpler transactions in Ms. Krauss's mesmerizingly convoluted scheme.
In Ms. Krauss's most important scene -- her novel's last -- characters communicate by tapping one another twice. This can be seen as a form of shorthand for what has come before. Nothing in ''The History of Love'' exists without some kind of echo or doppelgänger. There are multiple Almas, multiple texts and several interrelated old men.
The noisiest of these, Leopold Gursky, lives on the Lower East Side and speaks with a crankiness (''The Starbucks employee looked at me as if I were a cockroach in the brownie mix'' vastly different from Alma's teenage breathlessness. About having worn her late father's sweater for 42 days in a row, Alma explains: ''On the twelfth day I passed Sharon Newman and her friends in the hall. 'WHAT'S UP WITH THAT DISGUSTING SWEATER?' she said. Go eat some hemlock, I thought, and decided to wear Dad's sweater for the rest of my life.'' If for no other reason than the range of voices she has persuasively created, Ms. Krauss would stand out as a prodigious talent.
Speaking of which: the wunderkind writer whose themes and fancifulness most closely resemble Ms. Krauss's is Jonathan Safran Foer. His work would come to mind just as readily -- more readily -- if the two were not married. But while Mr. Foer's current ''Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close'' has a character playing ''Flight of the Bumblebee'' on the tambourine by its second page, ''The History of Love'' appears restrained by comparison.
Beyond the vigorous whiplash that keeps Ms. Krauss's ''History of Love'' moving (and keeps its reader offbalance until a stunning finale), this novel is tightly packed with ingenious asides. They range from parodying various publications' characteristic obituaries of a very famous writer, a man who was best known for a single, ecstatic five-page paragraph (Ms. Krauss perfectly mimics the syntax of both The Times and The New Republic) to skewering the kind of editor whom all writers dread. He takes Litvinoff and his wife out for a drink, regrets being unable to publish ''The History of Love,'' presents ''a gift of a book his publishing house had just brought out'' and leaves the Litvinoffs with the check.
Other notions are described no less realistically, even when they are as imaginary as the Age of String. (''There was a time when it wasn't uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations.'') Even at their most oddball, these flourishes reflect the deep, surprising wisdom that gives this novel its ultimate heft.
In addition to the book's tricks and all of its beloved Almas, Ms. Krauss's work is illuminated by the warmth and delicacy of her prose. ''Grammar of my life,'' says Gursky, describing a loneliness that this novel will transcendently remedy: ''as a rule of thumb, whenever there appears a plural, correct for a singular. Should I ever let slip a royal WE, put me out of my misery with a swift blow to the head.'' (Janet Maslin April 25, 2005.)