Monday, February 5, 2007

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Just like the last book I read, this book very much resembles Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated (stylistically, at least), although in the case of Nicole Krauss’ book it’s easy to see why (they’re married). This book was written wonderfully, and at times it’s hard to imagine where she found so much of her creativity. Told mostly from the perspective of two main characters, The History of Love tells the story of a Polish Jewish immigrant who came to the United States to escape the Second World War, and to find the woman he loved who had emigrated before him. Beginning with his first-person narration of his self-described old, empty life, the book then switches to and from the perspective of a 14 year-old girl, of Jewish parents, who describes her attempts to find happiness for her widowed mother.

This book demonstrates Krauss’ incredible versatility; she easily switches gears from an aging Jewish immigrant to a 14 year-old girl narrating through her journal. Krauss even manages to write a book within this book, or at least part of one. Krauss’s book centers around an obscure novel, also called ‘The History of Love,’ which is supposed to act as the sort of key that eventually unites the two distinct narratives. The excerpts from this book that she includes are so well-written, and completely different from the way she writes the rest of the book, that I felt myself wishing I could read it in its non-existent entirety. One of my favorite passages was written about the characteristics of angels:
HOW ANGELS SLEEP. Unsoundly. They toss and turn, trying to understand the mystery of the Living. They know so little about what it’s like to fill a new prescription for glasses and see the world again, with a mixture of disappointment and gratitude. The first time a girl named Alma puts her hand just below your bottom rib: about this feeling, they have only theories, but no solid ideas. If you gave them a snow globe, they might not even know enough to shake it.
This book was captivating and told a moving story, but it ended so unexpectedly that I found myself wondering if it was even Krauss who wrote the last 50 pages. It wasn’t that they were written poorly, just that so much was left unresolved that I felt like she had gotten lazy, and thought she would just write some pseudo-profound conclusion, hoping that the reader might just say “Ahh, how unique,” and be satisfied. As Krauss’s second book, The History of Love was a success, at least through page 200 or so. Personally, I was disappointed.

EDIT: On further reflection, this book was much better than I originally thought. I didn't recognize right away how astutely she deals with love in so many forms, not all of them beautiful. Her alternating narration and intertwining plot lines show each character's own form of love for someone (or something) else. It was a beautiful book, especially if you're quicker than I am and able to realize it.

1 comment:

Carlton Farmer said...

This does sound a lot like Everything Is Illuminated. Too bad about the ending; that is a good way to ruin a book.