Book Lovers: History of Love


The first language humans had was gestures. There was nothing primitive about this language that flowed from people's hands, nothing more we say now that could not be said in the endless array of movements possible with the fine bones of the fingers and wrists. The gestures were complex and subtle, involving a delicacy of motion that has since been lost completely.

During the Age of Silence, people communicated more, not less. Basic survival demanded that the hands were almost never still, and so it was only during sleep (and sometimes not even then) that people were not saying something or other. No distinction was made between the gestures of language and the gestures of life. The labor of building a house, say, or preparing a meal was no less an expression than making the sign for I love you or I feel serious....

Naturally, there were misunderstandings. There were times when a finger might have been lifted to scratch a nose, and if casual contact was made with one's lover just then, the lover might accidentally take it to be the gesture, not at all dissimilar, for Now I
realize I was wrong to love you. These mistakes were heartbreaking. And yet, because people knew how easily they could happen, because they did not go around with the illusion that they understood perfectly the things other people said, they were used to interrupting each other to ask if they'd understood correctly.

--from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss



I run a reading series in New York, which means that I read approximately 1023 books a year, am usually reading between three and seven at any given time, and the pile next to my bed could rival what was lost on Kristallnacht. Which is all to say: I only remember a book if it's absolutely unforgettable.

Three years after my first reading of it, I am haunted by Nicole Krauss' History of Love.

Written from two wildly different perspectives--a man in his twilight years and a young teenage girl--the story meanders through two very real heartbreaks. Leo Gursky is a man who survived the Holocaust only to fear he will die alone and unnoticed in America. Alma Singer is a plucky fourteen-year-old trying to survive the loss of her father, which mainly manifests as worry for her mother and brother. The former is in heavy mourning, while the latter believes he is (literally) the second coming.

Watching the narratives in the History of Love build toward each other is nothing short of riveting. There are secrets, collusions, misperceptions, and sharp as a blade under every interaction, the real and pressing needs of love.

And the best part? It's easy to read. Not easy as in sloppy, or one-note, or unsophisticated, but easy as in you don't remember you're reading because you are so involved with words.