Krauss’ first novel “Man Walks Into a Room” was about a man who suffers severe memory loss, wiping out 24 years of accumulated experience. He feels desperately lonely due to this condition. Similarly, in “The History of Love”, both Leo Gursky and Alma Singer are, in their unique ways, quite lonely and trying ways of escape from that condition. Throwing light on the role of solitude, loneliness and loss in her novels,
“I think it’s not so much about shining a light on solitude–which, I imagine, everyone must feel in some way–but rather focusing my interests in how one moves beyond that. There is a tremendous desire on the part of all my characters to be seen and to be heard. I guess that division interests me. Obviously in my characters I make it more aggravated than it is in my own life: I have a family and I am surrounded by my children. But I have my own interests as a writer and they guide the work.” (Krauss, as quoted by Sophie, 2006, p.43)
It is interesting to note that the story of Leo and Alma span across two continents beginning with the developments in Nazi Germany. The World War II and the attending Holocaust is an unlimited repository of loss and sorrow, which novelists have amply exploited ever since. For example, “many of the characters in this fiction are haunted by the dark history of 20th-century Europe. Often they are refugees, or else young Americans who are fascinated by their parents’ and grandparents’ pasts.” (Herman, 2011, p.49) Nicole Krauss is no exception to this rule, although her inclusion of these historical events is done primarily for balancing the plot and making it credible.
Although the novel is not explicitly about Holocaust victims and survivors, “the subtext carries the lingering impact of what happened to their generation of Polish Jews”. (Shoard, 2006, p.33) For example, Leo was forced to learn how to survive in the forests on a diet made of berries and rats; Alma too has to learn the same things via books. Krauss should be appreciated for not using the historical literary device of the war for melodramatic purposes. For example, although they speak of irreparable loss and confusion, the characters in “The History of Love” have come through their ordeals with their humor intact:
“Leo Gursky, is a tragic figure who escaped from eastern Europe, but left much behind and never recovered. However, Leo at times is also ridiculously funny, a true suffering joker–like Saul Bellow’s Herzog, or Zuckerman and Portnoy in the novels of Philip Roth–head buried in books and bowels in disarray.” (Herman, 2011, p.50)
Hence, in conclusion, it is fair to say that “The History of Love” is as much about loss and suffering as it is about love and longing. Author Nicole Krauss deserves admiration for the skillful manner in which she articulates a complex and loopy plot. While retaining emphasis on the story and narrative, the author does not sacrifice literary embellishments either. Overall, the novel is one of the best to have come out in the last decade.
Chisholm, “Will This Book Change Your Life?.” The Evening Standard (London, England) 13 June 2005: 65. Print.
Herman, David. “New World Reorder: David Herman Hails the Younger Generation of Jewish-American Writers.” New Statesman (1996) 18 Apr. 2011: 49+. Print.
Krauss, Nicole, The History of Love. Penguin, 2005. Print.
Shoard, A. “Paperback.” The Evening Standard (London, England) 23 Jan. 2006: 33. Print.
Sophie, Elmhirst. “The Books Interview.” New Statesman (2006) 7 Mar. 2011: 43. Print.