By February 18, 2011 1 Comments Read More →

Figuring Out What’s “Love” Got To Do With It

When the Adult Reading Round Table’s Quarterly Literary Fiction Discussion Group met recently to talk about The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss, more than half of the participants admitted they found the book confusing.  The novel employs multiple narrators, and frequently the readers weren’t sure who was doing the talking.

It was revealed during the discussion that the publisher utilizes graphic symbols at the beginning of each section to help identify the narrator, but unfortunately this technique hadn’t been evident to everyone in the group.  Several group members stated they’d listened to the audio version of the book, and the different voices featured on the recording made it easier for them to follow the story.  One person said she’d started reading the book, became perplexed, then switched to the audiobook and found it more satisfying.  She did go back and read the printed version, hearing the actors’ voices in her head as she moved through the story for the second time (talk about commitment!).

The participants felt that Krauss did an exceptional job of capturing the viewpoints of two of the main characters — an old man and a young girl.  They seemed very realistic, almost as if the author had observed them in real life and was reporting on how they thought and spoke.  In the novel, one of the characters has written a book, also called The History of Love, and we talked about the excerpts of this book (which are contained within the novel) and how these passages relate to the main story.  This led to a conversation about other books that are about a book written by a character (with passages included).

Another aspect of The History of Love that we explored was the similarity between Krauss’s novel and the one written by her husband, Jonathan Safran Foer, called Everything Is Illuminated.  Both books feature an elderly man, the Holacaust, and a story within a story.  However, Krauss’s book came out in 2005, and Foer’s was published in 2002.  Were they possibly working on them at the same time?  Did they ever compare drafts over the dinner table?  Guess we can’t be sure, but it’s an interesting curiosity.

What else was confusing about The History of Love?  One of the characters turns out to be imaginary — or is he?  We argued about this.  And at the end, does one of the characters die?  It’s ambiguous — and yet there is a poem (or an obituary?) on the final page that seems to point readers in a specific direction.  More fodder for discussion.

The History of Love is worth reading for a number of reasons:  Krauss’s writing, which is undeniably compelling; the complexity of the story and the intriguing way it is told; and not least, because of the many questions the novel raises, making it a great book for a discussion.



About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

1 Comment on "Figuring Out What’s “Love” Got To Do With It"

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  1.' Kate Z says:

    I wish I could have participated in this discussion! I absolutely LOVED History Of Love.

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