The History of Love performs a kind of magic. In a scant 250 pages, the last few dozen of which feature just a few sentences each, Krauss creates an entire world and entices the reader into it. Without ever breaking the spell by going into too much detail or explaining too much of her characters’ motivations, Krauss gets you to invest in the lives of Leo Gursky, Alma Singer and their compatriots and to feel what they feel along the way.
Leopold Gursky is an old man now. A retired locksmith who never married, he grew up and fell in love in his tiny Polish village before history intervened. Alma, the girl he loved, escaped to America while Leo escaped by the skin of his teeth, losing his whole family in the process. By the time Leo makes it to America and finds Alma, he finds her married and raising the son he never knew had with another man. Heartbroken, he spends the rest of his life basically alone.
But before their separation, the wildly imaginative young Leo had set down his love for Alma in a novel called The History of Love. The book’s tortured history gives Krauss’s novel its spine, as the text, which Leo thought was lost forever, resurfaces decades later in the home of a different Alma, named after the character in the novel based on the original.
This Alma, Alma Singer, is a teenage girl with a dead father and a mother who has withdrawn into a private world of grief. It was her father who plucked an obscure novel written in Spanish out of a used bookstore and gave it to the woman he loved as a present. How that novel came to be in that particular place at that particular time is a hell of a story as well.
Both Leo and Alma are trying to piece together mysteries at the center of their lives. Leo’s advanced age and Alma’s inexperience with the world make both their investigations dicey propositions, lending an unexpected edge of drama to the narrative that will have the reader flipping those brief final pages quickly.
The History of Love is a novel whose surface simplicity belies the complex reverberations of its characters choices. I’d recommend this book especially to book clubs, who could really dig into the story and its implications.