By January 15, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

The History of Love

A Novel CoverLast week my book group met to discuss Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love. I had read it a couple of years back, and remembered being impressed with Krauss’ ambition and style, as well as her ability to inhabit an older, male character.

The group had an interesting conversation about the book. The novel focuses on two main characters–Leo Gursky, a retired New York locksmith who fled Poland during the war, and Alma, a 13-year-old girl who bears the namesake of Leo’s lost love, about whom he wrote in a book that he lost. How their lives intersect, how they don’t, and their personal journeys frame the novel.

Many of the readers said they did not know how to describe the book to friends. “What is it about?,” their friends would ask, and they couldn’t answer.

Many adored the character of Leo, enjoyed his unpredictability and unreliability as a narrator. Others felt that Leo was more well-written than Alma, perhaps because Alma was closer to the author’s lived experience. But we came back to Leo’s unreliable narration. Although some admitted to feeling cheated at the end. There is a final twist, but one that one reader, who reread the book to make sure, astutely compared it to the film ” The Sixth Sense” and said it did not quite achieve what that film had achieved. There are loose ends, roads that don’t meet up, clues and details that are dropped. The History of Love reads, in some ways, like a mystery, which is what left some longing for a tidier resolution. Some readers felt betrayed, while others said that the book itself mirrored the messiness, the unresolved nature of love and life itself.

But ultimately all of the joy and frustration that the book evoked in the group led to one conclusion–The History of Love is a good book for discussion. The best books split the room, or call up unresolved feelings in the readers.

In rereading the book myself, I found myself enjoying the prose, enjoying the characters and appreciating the ambition, even as I recognized that it wasn’t airtight or even perfect. And once again, I was enlightened by the perspectives of my book group. They caught things I hadn’t in my reread, and most importantly, they brought themselves. Their enjoyment, their expectations, their disappointments. It’s that dedication to which I am in awe. Because there are book group members who just show up for the books they like, and there are others who take their membership seriously, and seemingly enter a pact–they understand that joining a book group means you may read books you love, you may read books you hate, but that you don’t necessarily know from the outset which those might be. You do it to learn and to share. You do it for the love of books, the love of discussion, for the connection with community. That, dear readers, is what keeps me going.



About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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