guide_431.jpg

History of Love (Krauss)

The History of Love
Nicole Krauss, 2005
W.W. Norton & Company
272 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780393328622


Summary 
A long-lost book reappears, mysteriously connecting an old man searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother's loneliness.

Leo Gursky is just about surviving, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he's still alive. But life wasn't always like this: sixty years ago, in the Polish village where he was born, Leo fell in love and wrote a book. And though Leo doesn't know it, that book survived, inspiring fabulous circumstances, even love. Fourteen-year-old Alma was named after a character in that very book. And although she has her hands full—keeping track of her brother, Bird (who thinks he might be the Messiah), and taking copious notes on How to Survive in the Wild—she undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With consummate, spellbinding skill, Nicole Krauss gradually draws together their stories.

This extraordinary book was inspired by the author's four grandparents and by a pantheon of authors whose work is haunted by loss—Bruno Schulz, Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, and more. It is truly a history of love: a tale brimming with laughter, irony, passion, and soaring imaginative power. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—1974
Reared —Old Westbury, Long Island, USA
Education—Stanford University; Oxford University
Awards—William Saroyan Int'l. Prize; Prix du Meilleur Livre 
   Etranger (France); Edward Lewis Wallant Award
Currently—Brooklyn, New York


Nicole Krauss is an American author best known for her novels The History of Love (2005), Man Walks into a Room (2002) and Great House (2010). Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire, and Granta's Best American Novelists Under 40, and has been collected in Best American Short Stories (2003 and 2008). Her novels have been translated into thirty-five languages

Krauss was born in New York City to an English mother and an American father who grew up partly in Israel. Krauss's maternal grandparents were born in Germany and Ukraine and later emigrated to London. Her paternal grandparents were born in Hungary and Slonim, Belarus, met in Israel, and later emigrated to New York. Many of these places are central to Krauss's 2005 novel, The History of Love, and the book is dedicated to her grandparents.

At the age of 14 Krauss became serious about writing. Until she began her first novel in 2002, Krauss wrote and published mainly poetry.

Education
Krauss enrolled in Stanford University in 1992, and that fall she met Joseph Brodsky who worked closely with her on her poetry over the next three years. He also introduced her to such writers as Italo Calvino and Zbigniew Herbert, who would have a lasting influence.

In 1999, three years after Brodsky died, Krauss produced a documentary about his work for BBC Radio 3, traveling to St. Petersburg where she stood in the "room and a half" where he grew up, made famous by his essay of that title. Krauss majored in English and graduated with Honors, winning a number of undergraduate prizes for her poetry as well as the Dean's Award for academic achievement. She also curated a reading series (with Fiona Maazel) at the Russian Samovar, a NYC restaurant co-founded by Brodsky.

In 1996, she was awarded a Marshall Scholarship and enrolled in a Masters program at Oxford University where she wrote her thesis about the American artist Joseph Cornell. During the second year of her scholarship she attended the Courtauld Institute in London, where she received a Masters in Art History, specializing in seventeenth-century Dutch art, and writing a thesis on Rembrandt.

Novels
In 2002, Krauss published her acclaimed first novel, Man Walks Into a Room. A meditation on memory and personal history, solitude and intimacy, the novel won praise from Susan Sontag and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. The movie rights to the novel were optioned by Richard Gere.

The History of Love was first published as an excerpt in The New Yorker in 2004, which sparked auctions among publishers worldwide, with Norton winning in America. The novel weaves together the stories of Leo Gursky, an 80-year-old Jewish survivor from Slonim, the young Alma Singer who is coping with the death of her father, and the story of a lost manuscript also called "The History of Love." The novel was an international bestseller and won numerous awards. The book was optioned by Warner Brothers and is set to be directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

In 2004, Krauss married the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer. They live in Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York, and have two children. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
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.
Janet Maslin - New York Times


Even in moments of startling peculiarity, [Krauss] touches the most common elements of the heart. For Leo, obsessed with his death but struggling to be noticed, and for Alma, ready to grow up but arrested by her mother's grief, the persistence of love drives them to an astonishing connection. In the final pages, the fractured stories of The History of Love fall together like a desperate embrace.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


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.
Publishers Weekly


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. Recommended for literary fiction collections. —Sarah Conrad Weisman, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY
Library Journal


The histories of several unresolved, inchoate and remembered loves. The first of the stories here is that of New York City octogenarian Leo Gursky, a Polish war refugee who came to America seeking Alma, the girl he had loved, who had emigrated before him. Following a bleakly funny opening sequence that sharply dramatizes Leo's undiminishable vitality, and also reveals teasing details about Alma's American life, second-novelist Krauss (Man Walks into a Room, 2002) shifts the focus to adolescent Alma Singer, who's edging cautiously toward womanhood while dealing with her unstable younger brother Emanuel (aka "Bird") and widowed mother Charlotte (a literary translator). Alma's memories of her late father, a cancer victim, take the forms of a fixation on survival techniques and an obsession with an autobiographical book (which Charlotte translates): a homage to another Alma, and the work of Holocaust survivor Zvi Litvinoff, whose resemblances to and connections with Leo Gursky lie at the heart of this novel's unfolding mysteries. Suffice it to say that each of Krauss's searching and sentient characters is both exactly who he or she seems to be and another person entirely, and that that paradox is expertly worked out as Krauss gradually reveals the provenance of the eponymous History; the relationship that embraces Litvinoff, Gursky and the latter's mysterious upstairs neighbor Bruno; and the woman or women they "all" loved and lost. These enigmas are deepened and underscored by the chaotic "diary" in which Bird records the apocalyptic fantasies that are at heart his own history of love and loss, another son's search for another father, and an affirmation of the compensation for loss through exercise of the imagination that this brilliant novel itself so memorably incarnates. A most unusual and original piece of fiction—and not to be missed.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1. Leo Gursky and Alma Singer make an unlikely pair, but what they share in common ultimately brings them together. What are the similarities between these two characters?

2. Leo fears becoming invisible. How does fiction writing prove a balm for his anxiety?

3. Explore the theme of authenticity throughout the narrative. Who's real and who's a fraud?

4. Despite his preoccupation with his approaching death, Leo has a spirit that is indefatigably comic. Describe the interplay of tragedy and comedy in The History of Love.

5. What distinguishes parental love from romantic love in the novel?

6. Why is it so important to Alma that Bird act normal? How normal is Alma?

7. When Alma meets Leo, she calls him the "oldest man in the world." Does his voice sound so ancient?

8. Uncle Julian tells Alma, "Wittgenstein once wrote that when the eye sees something beautiful, the hand wants to draw it." How does this philosophical take on the artistic process relate to the impulse to write in The History of Love?

9. Many different narrators contribute to the story of The History of Love. What makes each of their voices unique? How does Krauss seam them together to make a coherent novel?

10. Survival requires different tactics in different environments. Aside from Alma's wilderness guidelines, what measures do the characters in the novel adopt to carry on?

11. Most all of the characters in the novel are writers—from Isaac Moritz to Bird Singer. Alma's mother is somewhat exceptional, as she works as a translator. Yet she is not the only character to transform others' words for her creative practice. What are the similarities and differences between an author and a translator?

12. What are the benefits of friendship in the novel? Why might Alma feel more comfortable remaining Misha's friend rather than becoming his girlfriend?

13. The fame and adulation Isaac Moritz earns for his novels represent the rewards many writers hope for, while Leo, an unwitting ghostwriter, remains unrecognized for his work. What role does validation play in the many acts of writing in The History of Love?

14. Leo decides to model nude for an art class in order to leave an imprint of his existence. He writes to preserve the memories of his love for Alma Mereminski. Yet drawings and novels are never faithful renditions of the truth. Do you recognize a process of erasure in the stories he tells us?

15. Why might Krauss have given her novel the title The History of Love, the same as that of the fictional book around which her narrative centers?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

top of page (summary)

 

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2014