Believe the hype. The History of Love is one of the most original and engaging pieces of literary fiction of the past year. The novel focuses on a book entitled The History of Love, written by Leo Gursky at age twenty in Slonim, Poland, to honor Alma Mereminski, with whom he has shared an extraordinary love. When the Nazis threaten Poland and Alma has to flee, Leo, unsure if he will escape, gives his book for safekeeping to his best friend, who is sailing to Lisbon. Leo eventually makes his way to New York, where as a locksmith, he is a "man who became invisible." His book about Alma has vanished.
Leo's story unfolds through his memories and moves back and forth in time, running in parallel with the story of Alma Singer, a 14-year-old girl named for a character in a Spanish-language book entitled, coincidentally, The History of Love, which her father bought in Valparaiso, Chile, and gave to her mother when they were newlyweds. Young Alma, lonely following her father's death, spends her days writing How to Survive in the Wild, in an attempt to control the uncertainties of her life, while her brother Bird, eleven and a half, loses himself in religion, believing he may be the Messiah. Their mother becomes a translator of books.
Gradually, the characters and their stories converge, and the reader learns how a book written in Polish came to be published in Spanish in Chile, then translated into English by Alma's mother for a client living in Venice.
The relationships of the characters as they age, their attitudes toward life, and their goals for the future create a fluid thematic structure in which characters spring to life and become the primary focus. Using humor, absurdity, and a variety of points of view, Krauss creates profound emotion and sympathy for these characters as they deal with absurd reality, always keying her unique imagery to their particular points of view. Ultimately the reader recognizes that Krauss's novel, like Leo's book, illustrates the many different kinds of love--that of parents for children, children for parents, friends for each other, and, of course, the love between lovers.
With an opening page guaranteed to pique the interest of even the most jaded reader, this confident novel, written with assurance and panache, is fresh and full of charm, a novel illustrating in unique ways some of the oldest themes in literature. Mary Whipple