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on 24 August 2017
Great book
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on 31 July 2017
One of my favourites so far this year, and one that I will probably read again and again in the future. It just grows to be so dear to your heart.
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on 11 January 2015
Life-changing book.
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on 16 January 2008
That's the case with the "History of Love". Its author thought that the book he wrote decades earlier was irretrievably lost. Instead, it had survived and traveled extensively, touching and changing the life of those who read it.

I especially liked the character of old Leo Gursky, drawn vividly to say the least, a touching, funny and simultaneously heartbreaking personality, who never forgot his first and only love. She had fled their native Poland during the Holocaust to go to New York and, by the time he is able to reach her, and learns that he has a son, it's too late.

On the other side of town (we're in contemporary New York), a young girl named Alma is currently reading the translation her mother is doing of the "History of Love" -a book she knew had influenced her parents' lives- hoping that by finding out the identity of the man who had requested the translation would help her mother to find love again after her husband's untimely death. She cannot yet know that the plan she has in mind will unravel an unexpected path.

Emotional twists & turns unfold for both of these main characters, old Leo and young Alma. Without knowing each other personally and unbeknownst to them, their lives and those of their loved ones are tied by the same rope.

A tender and often wrenching story about Love in all of its forms. The only reason I gave it 3 stars instead of 4 (in the absence of that "half mark" which I find could be useful), is that, at times, I had to concentrate not to mix up the various characters described, despite their obvious pertinence to the story, especially when reaching the middle of the book. A bit confusing.
On the other hand, I did appreciate the thin but strong line between past and present, with an original juxtaposition and an elegant prose. It all comes together in the end and the message is incredibly moving.
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on 22 December 2015
I imagine Nicole Krauss is what they call 'a writer's writer'. Critics, and people who read for a living or as an academic pursuit will love her writing, but her book here will probably not be liked by simple folk like me, people who read for pleasure. I expect to be rewarded and entertained by a novel which has a beginning, a middle, an end, and -- is it too much to ask? -- discernible characters.

This book isn't a novel. It starts beautifully, with a very moving description of two elderly friends and with tragic tales of lost lives and love. But the rambling non-end, perhaps intended to be pure emotion or some kind of a meditation, ruins everything. It's too contrived and, frankly, pretentious. Page after page of mostly empty spaces, with a short paragraph in the middle. I get it was meant as a metaphor for something, as was the fact that the characters become interchangeable so we have no idea who speaks to whom, who lives, who has died (or if anyone, dead or alive, has actually ever existed at all). We're probably supposed to make up our own ending or understand that it doesn't really matter ... but, my goodness, was it annoying.

I would have given 'The History of Love' 1 star, but it does deserve more. Krauss is, no doubt, a deep and wonderfully talented writer. Her prose is polished, eloquent, able to express and elicit intense emotions with an apparent ease which probably takes very hard work. I wish she had written a proper novel. For me, this was too experimental, overwrought, and way too similar in everything - style, structure, themes, subject - to her ex-husband's Everything is Illuminated (which I happened to love).
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on 14 December 2015
Not my usual cup of tea, but someone recommended it and I thought, why not? It's quite funny in places and nicely observed throughout. I liked the style of the writing and the general pace of the piece. And best of all, I think I might have started to understand the person who recommended the book a little more, which can't be a bad thing.
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on 17 November 2015
Beautiful book
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on 10 August 2014
What is attractive and gripping of this book from the first page is its poetic prose. Its structure is slightly confusing though as it attempts to speak in first person from two different characters and covers the third strand of the story in third person. There are three strands in this story, jumping in locations and across time as characters reminisce as well as narrate what happens to them here and now. The three strands start off seemingly unrelated but of course in some intricate ways, they all converge to the life of Leo Gursky at the end. The intellectual part for the second half therefore is to trace how these people of different ages and in different locations relate to one another. There are surprises and the storyline does convey and get to where the author wants it to be with pinpoint precision, especially as Alma Singer (the young girl in the story who is the narrator of the second strand) has to engage in some detective work.

If the focus is only on the development of the storyline, not all the details are relevant. If the focus is on the completeness of the storyline, some loose ends are left untied, whether intentional or not I cannot be sure. Perhaps the author thinks stylistically those details are unimportant to settle? I don't know but to me, it annoys me. For example, did Leo's son (Isaac) know of his existence before he died? Did Isaac read Leo's manuscript Leo sent him? What did he do with it? Who made the decision to publish Leo's manuscript in Isaac's name, Isaac or his agent on a genuine misunderstanding? What happened to the History of Love then? Did Leo's second book get published in his own name and did his relationship with Isaac subsequently become a public knowledge, or was Leo content to have its work published in another person's name? Was Bruno really Leo's imaginary friend? That was scary! But from a technical point of view, it didn't work if Bruno was meant to be Leo's imaginary friend.

Outside the storyline, the book reflects the sadness and loneliness of the displaced Jews from Poland. None of the characters in the book were happy or cheerful; each of them had a sad story to tell or not to tell. This poignancy is well captured by the characters. Her descriptive writing is skilful with originality and creativity.

The author chooses to speak Leo Gursky in first person - this may be the pitfall of this book. I question if man thinks in the way it portrays because his thoughts, reasoning, sentiments were too feminine. It is one thing to analyse him with a female angle but to project it as if his own may not have done him justice. I can never know a man's mind in first person, but from the males I know in my life, they don't think like that at all! At the very least they should show some clumsiness in voicing and making sense of their emotions with many gaps even in their minds.

Finally, "He fell in love. It was his life." to sum up Leo's life may be correct, some people may even think it is romantic. But his life also shows the destructive power of such outlook of life - that (romantic) love is everything to life. Literature and pop music may sing about it, but I don't buy into it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 December 2007
I was captivated from the outset by The History Of Love, which opens with a narrator called Leo Gurnsky. He is in his 70s, lonely and waiting to die. He lost the love of his life when they became separated during the Holocaust. By the time he found her, she had given him up for dead and married someone else, raising his child as her husband's son.

Then the narrative jumps to Alma, a girl aged 14 who lives with her mother and younger brother. Her mother has been alone since Alma's father died, and Alma wants to set her up with someone. Her mother has been asked to translate a book and Alma wonders if the client might be a suitable candidate.

At this point I was curious to know how these two stories would intersect. Every time I thought I had found the connection I would be proven wrong, and it's not until the very end of the novel that it all comes together. I can understand the reviewers who feel they didn't fully understand the book because I do feel that my grasp on what really happened is a little tenuous! This would be an excellent choice for a bookclub, as it leaves you wanting to discuss it with someone.

It's also a beautifully written book that is a joy to read. The sections narrated by Leo are particularly wonderful. The language throughout is rich and the narrative is multi-layered. It reminded me in many ways of "The World to Come" by Dara Horn, and I also recommend that book to anyone who enjoyed this one.
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on 8 February 2007
Intricately woven around the story of a book within the book, are the two worlds' of a fifteen-year-old girl called Alma Singer, and an old man called Leo Gursky, living their separate lives across New York City.

Without giving too much away (I hope!), following a theme of "lost loves" both characters strive to fill a void of emptiness and loneliness left by the departure of a loved one. Leo Gursky, epitomises the endurance of a love so all-encompassing that 60 years on from his adolescent dream a long time ago in Poland at the start of the war, he yet spends his days contemplating his lost love, his childhood sweetheart, and conspicuously drawing attention to himself in public, by knocking over shop displays, to assure himself of his existence.

At the same time, we follow the efforts of Alma Singer, desperate to ease her mother's loneliness, after the death of her father several years previously. Alma sets out to find the author of an old book her mother is translating into English at the request of an unknown stranger...

Beautfully written, there is plenty of earthy humour and sadness to take you on an enchanting and emotional journey, from war-time Poland to present day New York.
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