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History of Love (Krauss) - Book Reviews

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




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