I can't write metaphors anywhere near as well as Nicole Krauss, but love-longing is the core of her second novel. The History of Love is a poetic and profound tale, constructed in such complicated fashion that it's often hard to follow. But then with books that are worth rereading, complexity is a hurdle worth jumping. And The History of Love is worth revisiting once you've grown up -- which, whatever your age, will be years from now.
The indelible character here is Leo Gursky, an invisible old man with a God-like capacity for love and a face like rotting gefilte fish. Sixty years ago in Poland, he loved a little girl named Alma. The war separated him from her and their son. Believing he never properly cherished his family, he lives an invisible life.
Leo had another misfortune. His book dedicated to Alma, called The History of Love, was entrusted to a friend, lost, translated (bizarrely) into Spanish, then uncovered in New York by the 14-year-old daughter (also named Alma) of the grief-stricken translator.
Then Leo and young Alma ride along parallel tracks, both seeking love (though they don't know it) in the same person, with Krauss rendering their lives in poetic, postmodern style. There's a passage on page 164, for example, about fathers teaching their kids how to swim that launched me, in just a few sentences, from laughter to tears. A clich & eacute;, I know. And yet.
Krauss is married to Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), so everyone wants to lionize Manhattan's leading young literary couple. But that's just a way to avoid engaging with Krauss' themes, trivializing her achievement into celebrity gossip.
Remember your grandmother, with her charity work and her scrumptious cookies? Welcoming everyone into her home, always giving of her time. Nobody could love anybody the way she loved your dad, your aunt, her little grandchild, you.
Well, Leo Gursky and young Alma make your grandma look cheap and self-centered. If Krauss doesn't deliver a comprehensive History of Love, she certainly portrays a couple of its greatest exemplars.