Saturday, April 28, 2007

You are Doing a Puzzle

You are sitting at the table, with the pieces of the puzzle. You don't know what it's going to turn out to be, but the pieces are the prettiest pieces you've ever seen: magenta, electric blue, lime green, crimson, vermillion, shimmery gold, muted silver and cerulean. Lots and lots of cerulean. When you're finished, the picture they make is both so clear that you don't see how you could've missed it, and utterly, utterly beside the point.

So it is with reading Nicole Krauss's book,The History of Love. My friend Sophie recommended it to me a long time ago, and I finally got around to reading it. I was surprised to find, as I started the book, that I'd read part of it already: it was published in The New Yorker as a short story a few years ago.

The story follows the lives of two individuals who couldn't be more different. Leo Gursky is a Polish Jew, an old man, a retired locksmith. His story is very sad: his true love, from his village in Poland, escaped the Nazis and came to America before he did. She was pregnant with their child but did not know it at the time. He wrote her letters every day. She wrote him letters every day. Neither set connected with their recipient. By the time Leo managed to escape the Nazis, she had given up on him, and had married. Another man was raising Leo's son, and she had come to love him. Leo never did marry and was waiting to end his days alone, hoping only that he won't die on a day where no one has noticed him, and making petty scenes in public to ensure this.

Alma is a teenager. She lives with her brother, known as Bird, who believes he is a holy man and is constructing an ark in a vacant lot for the next great flood. Alma and Bird's father died when they were young. Their father was a wilderness expert and to honor his memory, Alma spends much of her time researching and writing about how to survive in the wilderness. Their mother, a translator, fell into a deep depression after her husband's death, from which she never really recovered.

The thread that binds Alma and Leo is an obscure book called The History of Love. I can't say too much more about how without ruining it for you, and I know I've made the story sound rather grim, but trust me when I assure you that it doesn't leave you feeling that way. There is a warmth, a realness, to both main characters. Their respective losses are a part of who they are, but they don't define them. The story doesn't come into focus until the final chapters, but like I said, it's almost beside the point. Alma, and Leo, themselves are the point of the story, and they are brilliant. I enjoyed this one a lot and will be sad to return it, despite the $13.75 in fines I recently learned that I owe, for various things.

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