four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
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0

A Novel

A-HistoryLoveAcross time and space, an almost-forgotten novel called The History of Love, published in 1950s Chile, binds together two souls. Leo Gursky, an 80-year-old retired Polish locksmith in New York and former writer, fled the Nazis as a youth. Now he fears he’s invisible to the world. "Aside from myself, there was no sign of me," he says—his childhood sweetheart, Alma, is gone, and he’s never become acquainted with his son. A different Alma, named for the fictional heroine of the 1950s novel, is a 14-year-old girl whose father has died, leaving her to cope with a lonely mother and a disillusioned little brother. Through these characters, this book-within-a-book narrative questions the relationship between life and literature and recounts stories of great loss, memory, and survival.
Norton. 255 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0393060349

Newsday 4.5 of 5 Stars
"From her illustrious predecessors Bellow and Roth, Malamud and Schulz, she has learned a great deal. But this novel is altogether her own creation, an achievement of extraordinary depth and beauty." Dan Cryer

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The story is part comic and part sad, a bit of a mystery but certainly not a tragedy. As in the best novels, many questions are raised and no easy answers provided." Robin Vidimos

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Nothing in The History of Love exists without some kind of echo or doppelgänger. … Ms. Krauss’s work is illuminated by the warmth and delicacy of her prose." Janet Maslin

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"… moving and virtuosic. … [The literary documents’] role in Krauss’s tricky, intriguing plot suggests that all writing, no matter how private or obscure, is potentially filled with transformative power and sometimes in ways neither author nor reader could hope to imagine." Megan Harlan

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"No one must rob you of the chance to experience Nicole Krauss’s new novel in all its beautiful confusion. … Krauss takes a risk by tottering along with this old-man shtick, but she portrays him with such tenderness that his story is at least as heartbreaking as it is hilarious." Ron Charles

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"The final pages of the novel contain a discovery so lovely, so poignant and right and ultimately illuminative, that I was almost willing to forgive her every coy, clever cartwheel in the book." Gail Caldwell

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[The novel] zips through such webs of mystification that reading it alternates between astonished pleasure and a decoding so laborious as to make you suspect that the message, plain, is less remarkable than the devices used to obscure it. … It is Gursky who shines." Richard Eder

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"As is so often the case, what we are shown of the book-within-a-book in The History of Love is underwhelming. (If the book-within-a-book were really so terrific, the author would have written that book instead.)" Laura Miller

Critical Summary

Krauss’s second novel (after 2002’s Man Walks Into a Room) originally appeared in abbreviated form in The New Yorker. That piece failed to capture the novel’s maddening complexity and brilliance. Critics describe History of Love as poignant, hilarious, and ingenious—and perhaps too smart for its own good. The literary pyrotechnics that some commended—the doppelgängers, the "decoding" of different journal entries, translations, and lists, the nested stories—confounded others. "The writer’s connections are closer to tangles," complained the Los Angeles Times, and mask a simple, powerful, message. Yet most reviewers, who quickly compared Krauss’s work to her husband Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ( 3 of 5 Stars page 38), agreed that her work is more restrained, her characters more illuminating, and the novel as a whole a bit superior.