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The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

The History of Love

Part of the Penguin Essentials Series
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RRP £8.99

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This book provokes strong reactions – some dislike the huge number of characters and ambiguous narrative. I loved it – for the wonderful characters, fresh language and sensitive feel. This quirky, powerful story may divide your group.

Several narratives develop simultaneously and alternately, several characters develop and intertwine and several ages are evoked all of which add up to a complex and successful interweaving of lives and stories.

Elderly Leo sits alone and isolated in his New York flat. He has lost all his family and friends. He is terrified of the strong possibility of dying alone, which prompts him to write out his details and planned funerary arrangements on a scrap of paper, to be carried at all times. Apart from occasional visits from equally elderly Bruno, who he contacts via tapping on the hot water pipes in the apartment block, or trips to a life drawing class to pose as a nude model, Leo is utterly alone. The solitude allows him to assess his life and the hand fate has dealt him and his tale of love, loss and survival is both unique and, I suspect, similar to many others of those who fled the Holocaust. Leo is a heartbreaking mix of pride, bravery, humour and pathos. As the daughter of a very elderly father, I felt both sadness and wonder at Leo’s struggles - the small significances, small details of a good man’s life and the tiny imprint he makes on this world.

But this is only one narrative in The History of Love. Elsewhere in the novel, an obscure and fascinating book, also called ‘The History of Love’ is being translated by teenage Alma’s bereaved mother and the whole nature of creative writing is assessed in detail.

Krauss’s novel has evoked passionate responses, including criticisms of the baffling narrative and ambitious cast. For me, this did not detract from the dazzling characterization and sheer range of people conjured up. Alma’s young brother Bird is a wonderful creation. Krauss’s superb writing both amazed and moved me and personally I would like to take Leo home, listen to his stories and cook him supper…but that’s another story.

Sarah Broadhurst's view...

Reviewed on Richard and Judy on 18 January 2006. This is the sort of book you will either love or hate, reactions can be pretty strong. Interestingly a girl at Penguin broke off her longstanding relationship once she had read it, so convinced was she by Nicole’s illustration of love. She knew her’s didn’t match the feelings she had just experienced in words, words that transmitted such truth to her heart. It says quite a lot about a book for it to have that sort of power. This is heartbreaking stuff.

Comparison: Annie Proulx, Paul Auster, Michael Cunningham.

If you like Nicole Krauss you might also like to read books by Jonathan Safran Foer, Marina Lewycka and Amy Grace Loyd.

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The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer, tapping his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbour know he's still alive, drawing attention to himself at the milk counter of Starbucks. 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 although he doesn't know it, that book also survived: it crossed oceans and generations, and changed lives.

Fourteen-year-old Alma was named after a character in that book. These days she has her hands full keeping track of her little brother Bird (who thinks he might be the Messiah), and taking copious notes in her book, How to Survive in the Wild Volume Three. But when a mysterious letter arrives in the post she undertakes an adventure to find her namesake, and save her family.

In her extraordinary new novel Nicole Krauss has created some of the most memorable and moving characters in recent fiction. A tale brimming with laughter, passion and soaring imaginative power, The History of Love confirms Nicole Krauss as one of the most remarkable writers of her generation.

About the Author

Nicole Krauss

Nicole Krauss is the author of the international bestseller The History of Love, which was published by Penguin in 2005. It won the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, and was short-listed for the Orange, Médicis, and Femina prizes. Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, and Best American Short Stories, and her books have been translated into more than thirty-five
languages. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Book Info

Publication date

6th January 2006


Nicole Krauss

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Penguin Books Ltd


Paperback (b Format)
272 pages


Literary Fiction
Reading Groups
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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