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The History of Love

The History of Love

4.0 217
by Nicole Krauss

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A long-lost book reappears, mysteriously connecting an old man searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother's loneliness.
Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But it wasn’t always like this: in the Polish village of his


A long-lost book reappears, mysteriously connecting an old man searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother's loneliness.
Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But it wasn’t always like this: in the Polish village of his youth, he fell in love and wrote a book…Sixty years later and half a world away, fourteen-year-old Alma, who was named after a character in that book, undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With virtuosic skill and soaring imaginative power, Nicole Krauss gradually draws these stories together toward a climax of "extraordinary depth and beauty" (Newsday).

Editorial Reviews

Miami Herald
“It’s the sort of book that makes life bearable after all.”
New York
“A significant novel, genuinely one of the year’s best. Emotionally wrenching yet intellectually rigorous, idea-driven but with indelible characters and true suspense.”
Ali Smith
“It restores your faith in fiction. It restores all sorts of faith.”
Janet Maslin - New York Times
“Vertiginously exciting…Beyond the vigorous whiplash that keeps The History of Love moving (and keeps its reader off balance until a stunning finale), this novel is tightly packed with ingenious asides…Even at their most oddball, these flourishes reflect the deep, surprising wisdom that gives this novel its ultimate heft.”
Claire Messud - LA Weekly

The novel's achievement is precisely this: to have made a new fiction—alternately delightful and hilarious and deeply affecting.

Andre Aciman

Nicole Krauss's Leo Gursky is all voice—frisky, aching, jittery, stunning, heart-rending, irresistible. There's nothing like his voice, nor will there ever be. A cross between I.B. Singer and Woody Allen, Kafka and Leopold Bloom, [it] doesn't just work its way into the pantheon of American voices: it literally walks straight up to them and asks them to move over—or else it will haunt their living days and nights. And it does just that.

“Krauss writes like an angel.”
Washington Post
“At least as heartbreaking as it is hilarious.”
“One of the most passionate vindications of the written word in recent fiction. It takes one’s breath away.”
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
"Once upon a time a man who had become invisible arrived in America." An unlikely and unforgettable hero, Leo Gursky is a survivor -- of war, of love, and of loneliness. A retired locksmith, Leo does his best to get by. He measures the passage of days by the nightly arrival of the delivery boy from the Chinese restaurant and has arranged a code with his upstairs neighbor: Three taps on the radiator means, "ARE YOU ALIVE?, two means YES, one NO." But it wasn't always so. Sixty years earlier, before he fled Poland for New York, Leo met a girl named Alma and fell in love. He wrote a book and named the character in it after his beloved. Years passed, lives changed, and unbeknownst to Leo, the book survived. And it provides Leo -- in the eighth decade of his life -- with a link to the son he's never known.

How this long-lost book makes an extraordinary reappearance and connects the lives of disparate characters is only one of the small miracles The History of Love offers its readers. Rich, inventive, and continually surprising, this is a novel about lost love, found love, and rediscovered love; it is about where we find love when it seems all too elusive and what happens when we do. In short, it is a triumph. (Summer 2005 Selection)
Ron Charles
Even in moments of startling peculiarity, [Krauss] touches the most common elements of the heart. For Leo, obsessed with his death but struggling to be noticed, and for Alma, ready to grow up but arrested by her mother's grief, the persistence of love drives them to an astonishing connection. In the final pages, the fractured stories of The History of Love fall together like a desperate embrace.
— The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
There are also two kinds of writers given to the verbal tangents and cartwheels and curlicues that adorn Ms. Krauss's vertiginously exciting second novel: those whose pyrotechnics lead somewhere and those who are merely showing off. While there are times when Ms. Krauss's gamesmanship risks overpowering her larger purpose, her book's resolution pulls everything that precedes it into sharp focus. It has been headed for this moment of truth all along.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The last words of this haunting novel resonate like a pealing bell. "He fell in love. It was his life." This is the unofficial obituary of octogenarian Leo Gursky, a character whose mordant wit, gallows humor and searching heart create an unforgettable portrait. Born in Poland and a WWII refugee in New York, Leo has become invisible to the world. When he leaves his tiny apartment, he deliberately draws attention to himself to be sure he exists. What's really missing in his life is the woman he has always loved, the son who doesn't know that Leo is his father, and his lost novel, called The History of Love, which, unbeknownst to Leo, was published years ago in Chile under a different man's name. Another family in New York has also been truncated by loss. Teenager Alma Singer, who was named after the heroine of The History of Love, is trying to ease the loneliness of her widowed mother, Charlotte. When a stranger asks Charlotte to translate The History of Love from Spanish for an exorbitant sum, the mysteries deepen. Krauss (Man Walks into a Room) ties these and other plot strands together with surprising twists and turns, chronicling the survival of the human spirit against all odds. Writing with tenderness about eccentric characters, she uses earthy humor to mask pain and to question the universe. Her distinctive voice is both plangent and wry, and her imagination encompasses many worlds. Agent, Bill Clegg at Burnes & Clegg. First serial to the New Yorker; BOMC, QPB and Reader's Subscription selections; author tour; film rights to Warner Brothers; audio rights to Recorded Books; foreign rights sold in 15 countries. (May 2) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A boy in Poland falls in love and writes a book when World War II arrives, and both the love and the book are lost. Leo Gursky, now in his eighties and living in New York City, struggles to be noticed each day so that people will know he has not yet died. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Alma Singer wants her brother to be normal and her mother to be happy again after the death of Alma's father. In a quest for the story behind her name, Alma and Leo find each other, and Leo learns that the book he wrote so long ago has not been lost. Krauss (Man Walks into a Room) develops the story beautifully, incrementally revealing details to expose more and more of the mystery behind Leo's book, The History of Love. At the end, some uncertainty remains about a few of the characters, but it does not matter because the important connections between them are made. Recommended for literary fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/05.]-Sarah Conrad Weisman, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The histories of several unresolved, inchoate and remembered loves. The first of the stories here is that of New York City octogenarian Leo Gursky, a Polish war refugee who came to America seeking Alma, the girl he had loved, who had emigrated before him. Following a bleakly funny opening sequence that sharply dramatizes Leo's undiminishable vitality, and also reveals teasing details about Alma's American life, second-novelist Krauss (Man Walks into a Room, 2002) shifts the focus to adolescent Alma Singer, who's edging cautiously toward womanhood while dealing with her unstable younger brother Emanuel (aka "Bird") and widowed mother Charlotte (a literary translator). Alma's memories of her late father, a cancer victim, take the forms of a fixation on survival techniques and an obsession with an autobiographical book (which Charlotte translates): a homage to another Alma, and the work of Holocaust survivor Zvi Litvinoff, whose resemblances to and connections with Leo Gursky lie at the heart of this novel's unfolding mysteries. Suffice it to say that each of Krauss's searching and sentient characters is both exactly who he or she seems to be and another person entirely, and that that paradox is expertly worked out as Krauss gradually reveals the provenance of the eponymous History; the relationship that embraces Litvinoff, Gursky and the latter's mysterious upstairs neighbor Bruno; and the woman or women they "all" loved and lost. These enigmas are deepened and underscored by the chaotic "diary" in which Bird records the apocalyptic fantasies that are at heart his own history of love and loss, another son's search for another father, and an affirmation of the compensation for loss throughexercise of the imagination that this brilliant novel itself so memorably incarnates. A most unusual and original piece of fiction-and not to be missed. First serial to New Yorker; film rights to Warner Bros., David Heyman to produce and Alfonso Cuaron to direct; Book-of-the-Month Club, Quality Paperback Book Club selection; author tour
San Francisco Chronicle
“Moving and virtuosic.”
“Confirms the depth and breadth of her talent.”
New York Times
“Vertiginously exciting.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.20(w) x 5.54(h) x 0.64(d)

What People are Saying About This

Ali Smith
It restores your faith in fiction. It restores all sorts of faith.

Meet the Author

Nicole Krauss has been hailed by the New York Times as “one of America’s most important novelists.” She is the author of the international bestseller Great House, a finalist for the National Book Award, and Man Walks Into a Room. Her books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages.

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The History of Love 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 217 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the best novel I have read in decades, and I read a lot. I cried through the last 20 pages, and then immediately started reading it over again.
abaronessa More than 1 year ago
The book was so good I couldnt put it down. I enjoyed it very much. My 16 year old son also really liked this book. Finally a book about real values.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had the pleasure of LISTENING to this book on CD and i must say that the voices truly enhanced what i found to be a profoundly perfect book. i'm astounded that the author is a young woman she has such an 'old' voice. i did something i've NEVER done before: when i finished, i went right back to the beginning and started all over again. I wanted to pick up all the subtle nuances and almost wanted to do a flow-chart to keep track. what a beauty!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The History of Love was a book chosen by our book club to read and, one I don"t regret; however, it's not to say I would put this on my top 10 list. The book is broken up and intertwined into past and present and you are looking at several lives throughout the chapters only for them to come together at the end. The main character Leo Gursky has written a book (The History of Love) about his one and only love Alma only for it to have been stolen and published by a friend early on in his life. Leo and Alma were from a small town in Poland and prior to WWII reaching their town, a pregnant Alma and her family left for America leaving Leo to come to America a few years later only to find that she had moved on with her life. Leo spent the rest of his life dismal, thinking about death, and the son he never met or tried to meet. Through an odd mixture of events (that led me to reread several pages) a child named after the main character of The History of Love, Alma, and her brother helped Leo Gursky find life (now that he was in his eighties). I respect the writing and integrity of The History of Love-it makes for great discussion; however, I didn't have the same emotional feelings like so many did because I felt the novel was a little too fictionalized and some of the main characters weren't played out fully. There were points of humor throughout; however, the overall tone of the book was very melancholy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The History of Love, from the first sentence to the very last, is something so beautiful it is beyond words. I've cried, I've laughed, and I've never read a story quite like this. The novel is so different and so unique it defies description. Every word, every sentence, brings it to life.
yowen2010 More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book and I definetely recommend it. However, I didn't really understand the ending so much and left me with an incomplete and perplexed feeling...otherwise, great characters, interesting storyline and the best part for me was Leo's humor.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If it is ever possible to put emotions into words, which very few of us can do, reading this novel is like reading emotions, only Nicole Krauss found a way to include a narrative. Pure beauty exists.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The poetry of each page took my breath away
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an absolute must read and has immidiately become one of my favorites. The writing is absolutely beautiful and captivating, and the story is compelling. This book will change your life.
BookClubReviewer More than 1 year ago
When you have to read a book twice and take notes just to understand what's going on - you know the plot is confusing. One of our book club members had to resort to this tactic and the others were just plain confused. Most of our discussion was centered around explanations of characters as we hopped from Nazi Poland to New York City to Chile in search of Leo Gursky's history. On the positive side the personalities of Leo, Alma and Bird were engaging and brought a sympathic response to their plights - Leo as he struggled to remain visible to the world - Alma and Bird as they grew and matured while living with their mother's consuming grief. Just trying to "keep it all straight" became the task rather than enjoying the characters and story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had so many confusing twists concerning "The History of Love" that I had to stop and think about how it was connecting. Finishing the book became more a chore than a pleasure, and if it were not for Leo, I probably would have put it back on the shelf unfinished. In ways it reminded me of a children's book that my daughters read decades ago, "Who's Got The Apple", which by the way was more enjoyable than this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really did not like this book. It just never came together for me. Several of my friends read it and loved it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is true that the book had its confusing moments, but if you were as captivated by the writing as I was, you will try to solve the puzzle before it is explained to you. The book had many characters and each one seemed to have something to relate to, even though they were extremely different people. All of my emotions were played with by the writing to the point where I saw that I had chills after reading the ending. The story was so good I couldn't wait for someone else to read it so I could talk about it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was so depressed by this story I promised I'd never use my free time to delve into something so gray and hopeless again. It was unncecessarily confusing. I wanted the characters to just get on with it and end their misery and my own. While poignant and humorous in places, it wasn't enough to save the book. I had to read this for a book club selection and I felt like I was being punished I see others' rave reviews on this book...oh well ... the story weighed me down. I give it a thumbs down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have to admit, I do not understand the appeal of this book. I tried really hard to like it because I thought I was missing something based on the amazing reviews it got. I hate giving up on a book but every time I try to read it I fall asleep after a few pages because IT IS SO BORING and has yet to progress. I eventually got so confused that I re-started the entire book and just haven't been able to get past the half-way point. I want to think that it gets better in the end but I just can't waste any more of my life trying to finish this book.  
jbsnyc More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful story told in lyrical prose. My favorite type of book.
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
This was, I think, a book about an old man, a young girl and a book. The young girl, Alma, is named after a character in a love story (aptly named The History of Love) and the old man, of course, has his connections to it as well. The book transcends time, relationships and countries. Sounds pretty great, right? I started out really loving this book. Maybe it’s my love of old men, but the fact that it was narrated by an old man who didn’t want to die on a day he went unnoticed immediately hooked me. Unfortunately, he was the best part. The rest of the book fell flat. The other characters weren’t fully developed and the plotline was shaky. Every time I thought things were going to get better, I was disappointed. Looking back through the reviews on Goodreads, I should have known what was coming. The reviews there weren’t all that stellar, either. But unfortunately, I didn’t listen to them because I thought they would be wrong (like they usually are). Oh well, I guess it’s on to the next one!
AvidReaderSB More than 1 year ago
The History of Love is a good story written by a good writer.
Molly Thibert More than 1 year ago
Recommended to me by my mom...she knows me so well. It took a moment for me to grasp the intertwinnings of the characters, but I knew it would all come together. The characters kept me captivated, as did the language and tempo. I found myself highlighting quotes, dropping my jaw at the eloquent and dead-on descriptions of feelings and being a human, and re-reading passages over and again. I can't wait to read it again!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful & Captivating. It is a joy to read and one that sticks with you long after you finish the last page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me by a friend, so I had high hopes, but it just never really gripped me. It was written in an interesting style that could have worked, but it didn't quite get there. It reminded me a bit of "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which has a similar pattern but is a much much better book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gratefully, I was able to both read this amazing novel and hear its CD. I always anxiously looked forward to listening to the CD, falling in love with the old man, Leo; what a strong character! For rereading special parts, viewing the changing chapter icons, and actually experiencing the surprising way the physical layout added to the flow, especially at the end, I appreciated reading the book. And it was listened to and read over again immediately, so hard was it to end the laughing and crying.

I was so powerfully effected by the emotions Krauss was able to draw out of her readers, that later I read the end of the book again while waiting in a local bookstore, and found myself effected almost as much as when I had had more privacy!! Amazing and embarassing. This stands out as one of those special books that I want in my own personal library. Thank you, Nicole Krauss, thank you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is in my top 10 favorite books of all time. I think Krauss in incredibly talented. I admit I had to stop and jot down notes to figure out who was where and when, then I understood in the end why I had been confused. I love the idea of an artist/writer creating something beautiful that moves people in ways he may never know.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book I'm going to pass onto my family!