Review of History of Love
By Jaci Turner
The History of Love features interrupted love stories within many different contexts. The relationships created by Nicole Krauss are dysfunctional which allows readers to connect to their imperfect characteristics. When asked about the creation of her characters in a question and answer session at Butler University, Nicole responded that she starts with a character and then begins to imagine conversations that the character might have. She said that she writes in almost a stream of consciousness form, with the end result being a book that is three times the length of the book that will be published. This thorough process might seem inefficient, but it allows Krauss to develop characters that seem to be rich with life experience. Throughout the novel, the characters of The History of Love experience relationships with unresolved endings.
Leo Gursky is a survivor of the Holocaust who escaped to New York to pursue his childhood love, only to find that she has married and has a son. True to one of his teenage promises, Leo stayed true to her: “Their love was a secret they told no one. He promised her he would never love another girl as long as he lived. ‘What if I die?’ She asked. ‘Even then,’ he said” (Krauss 11). Leo loves Alma his whole life, even though for most of his adult life it was completely unrequited.
This is echoed in young Alma’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Misha. Alma is Misha’s first friend in America, and in many ways, Misha is Alma’s first real friend as well. Their friendship has much more meaning than many childhood friendships, Misha and Alma share secrets and insights that seem far beyond those of a 12 year old, “I told Misha everything. About how my father had died, and my mother’s loneliness, and Bird’s unshakeable belief in God. I told about the three volumes of How to Survive in the Wild, and the English editor and his regatta, and Henry Lavender and his Phillipine shells, and the veterinarian, Tucci.” These are complex ideas and feelings, much deeper than what a preteen girl would feel comfortable sharing with a boy she has just met. When their relationship blossoms into something more, it is Alma again who flees, following the footsteps of her namesake generations before. When the story ends, Alma and Misha have not reconciled - a heartbreaking thought. Alma and Misha’s romance could have left the reader with hope that they would have the great love story that Alma and Leo never did.
These two interrupted love stories, along with many others woven in throughout the story, show the complexities of love and their long lasting impacts. Alma and Leo’s romance left many heartbreaks and lifelong regrets, which is why I, as a reader, ached so much for Alma and Misha’s falling out. They seem to being following the same path for heart ache, which makes me want to reach out and show them the mistakes they’re making.
This is one of Krauss’s strengths as a writer; she develops characters that make the reader empathize with and reach out to with guidance and support. Young Alma is like a younger sister that you want to help and give advice to, and Leo is an interesting uncle that tells stories from the war. Her characters are real people that bring about real emotions. Even with the complex plot and intermingled character relationships, the story is easy to follow because the reader genuinely cares about characters’ emotions and opinions.