Later—when things happened that they could never have imagined—she wrote him a letter that said: When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything?The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Words I’d use to describe this book: intricate, ambitious, enjoyable. But those words don’t feel all encompassing.
The History of Love is a multi-perspective story about expressing oneself (especially ones desires). It describes a book also titled The History of Love, and uses it was a talisman of sorts—interacting with the lives of various, otherwise unrelated characters, eventually tying a few of them together. You have Leo, a Holocaust survivor who lives a lonely existence, purposely making scenes at the local coffee shop in fear that otherwise he will go unnoticed. There’s Alma, the teenage survivalist who funnels her grief over the death of her father into attempts to make her mother happy again, including writing letters to potential suitors. It also includes passages from the aforementioned book as well as information about its fictional author, Zvi Litvinoff.
These multiple narratives converge upon The History of Love, and also share an overall theme of the power of words. This question of is there a word for everything? / what do you do when words aren’t enough? frequently reminded me of another book I read recently—The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. Where Nelson addresses this question in a nonfiction framework of how to address and describe her queer existence with her queer partner within the heterosexual construct, each of Krauss’ characters struggle with using the words they are given, when in many ways (either dealing with the tragedy and trauma of the Holocaust, or in the grief of losing a loved one), words are failing them, being stolen, repurposed, relabeled, and presented in peculiar ways.
What I didn’t love so much:
- The group of readers I was reading along with all agreed that the nonlinear events were a little difficult to follow. Here’s a helpful list of events in chronological order that I think would be useful for anyone reading this! (Watch out: spoilers!)
- I could’ve done without the character of Bird altogether. Although I understood how he represents another facet of surviving and perhaps functions as a mirror for his sister’s grieving process, his role in this story felt minuscule in comparison to the other characters.
- At times, this project felt like an unfinished web. Krauss’ ambitious mission is clear, but at only 250 pages, some aspects are left to fray. The key facets of characters like Bruno are revealed, but additional details (such as whether he is connected to the real author of the Street of Crocodiles) remain strands left unknotted. Although one of the alluring qualities of the novel is how much of it can be left for interpretation, the unfinished touches left me a hair away from satisfied—but eager to shelve this book to reread in a few years!
The Short Review:
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I somehow went through the beginning of this millennium without reading anything by Krauss or even having heard of this book. It is beautifully written, with some lovable characters that outshine the less-than-captivating ones. It’s intricate and feels as if Krauss is trying to do too much with her prose at times—which is fitting since the characters also struggle with expressing their stories. This isn’t one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, but I happy to have read it; I’d recommend this to just about anybody.
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I read this along with #BookBeatBuddies in my first ever Bookstagram buddy read! Thanks Kathleen for hosting! Here are some reviews from our group that I loved: