Genre: Drama, contemporary
My rating: ★★★★(4 of 5 stars)
What started it all are the buzz and overflowing love it received from countless bookworms I know. The gushing accolades colored me curious and the recommendations kept coming, so I picked it up. I know I would be in for a different kind of read from the very first pages; the characters proved to be charm-on-two-legs in the maze-like structure of the story, and the story itself seem to tell the reader that it also has its own personality. Halfway through, I know it has built itself a special space in my heart. And that, my fellow readers, is my history of love for Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love.
The novel’s narration was cleaved into three: one following precocious fourteen-year-old Alma Singer and her journey to find the cure for her mother’s unhappiness, which she thinks lies in a certain book called (surprise, surprise!) The History of Love; one from the perspective of a lonely old writer named Leo Gursky who is trying to survive a little bit longer; and one detailing some kind of behind the scenes that provide catalysts that will cause the collision of Alma’s and Leo’s narratives.
There are so many things to love about this novel. I particularly enjoyed how the author crafted the character of Leo—he is as hilarious as he is heartbreaking. I remembered moments where I am not so sure if the tears stinging my eyes were caused by joy or sympathy, and I’m commending the author for that. Alma, on the other hand, talks a lot like a nosy kid who is always ready for an adventure. She is the proof that Krauss carries a talent in characterization, as she is able to fully provide two distinctive, believable voices that can tug at the heartstrings of their audiences.
I also like the existence of Leo’s The History of Love as a book within a book, and I could only wish it exists in real life too. As usual, only small parts of it are offered in the novel. It contains chapters describing an imaginary albeit cute chronicle of human affection, consisting of ''The Age of Silence,'' during which people communicated only by gesture; the “Age of Glass,'' when ''everyone believed some part of him or her to be extremely fragile”; and ''The Age of String,'' when ''it wasn't uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations.'' All women who pop up in these vignettes are named Alma, named after the girl that Leo loves, and who is also (obviously) the namesake of our little heroine.
To be quite honest, there is not much to say about the storyline. It unfolds like an origami containing a secret message, one whose main contents you already know but you still want to see because you know it will contain surprises that only a writer like Krauss could concoct. When these surprises finally sprang to greet me, they proved to be so emotionally wrenching that I cannot help but stop for a while and breathe.
My favorite parts are near the end, where each alternating chapter becomes short strings of quotes and glimpses into the minds of Alma and Leo as they begin to meet. The ending is subtle, peaceful, but ultimately meaningful.
Four stars for a satisfying read!