Now that we’ve begun our book together it’s time to start the conversation. Let’s look at how the story unfolds and the journey Nicole Krauss has begun to take us on.
The story so far: We meet Leo Gursky, a Polish-Jewish retired locksmith who immigrated to New York City after WWII, during which his family was assassinated by the Nazis. We can probably assume that this great tragedy has created a void, and he feels deep loneliness. Fortunately, he’s met a childhood friend, Bruno, in New York City, who helps him feel a bit more connected to someone. But Leo even thinks: “I often wonder who will be the last person to see me alive. If I had to bet, I’d bet on the delivery boy from the Chinese take-out.” He finds an art class to model nude one time, all for $15, but perhaps it’s really just to be around other people, even if it means posing naked at this stage of his life. When Bruno tried unsuccessfully to take his own life, Leo panicked at the idea of losing his only friend.
We learn that when Leo was 25 years old, he’d discovered that he had a son, Isaac, whose mother was his childhood love. Leo has never met his son, now a famous author, though he yearns to. He’d even once attended a writing event, but he didn’t introduce himself to Isaac as his father. Leo himself liked to write as a boy and he’d even written a book many years ago for the girl he loved. He’d begun writing again as an elderly man, a book he titles “Words for Everything.” He heads off to give his manuscript to his son.
Krauss then introduces Alma Singer, a young girl living in Brooklyn with her brother, Emanuel (nicknamed Bird), and their widowed mother, Charlotte. The children’s father, David, had died when Alma was just 7. Her mother continues the work they did together of translating books, all while grieving for her husband.
Alma is determined to help her mother overcome her sadness by finding her men to date. Alma considers that “the fact that she stays home translating books by mostly dead people didn’t seem to help much.” One of the books Charlotte is translating—on behalf of a mysterious benefactor named Jacob Marcus—is, like our book, called The History of Love. The book is one that Alma’s parents had shared and loved, even naming their daughter after a character who appears in it. Written in Spanish, it was the work of a Polish writer who had escaped to Chile. Alma decides that she wants Jacob Marcus to meet and fall in love with her mom. So she writes him a letter and includes it in the chapters she sends to him for Charlotte.
We end our reading section with an excerpt of the book within the book, beautifully written about a boy and the character Alma with this: “…then she kissed him. Her kiss was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”
Some questions I’m wondering:
• How will Leo and the Singers’ lives be woven together? Is it this book (with the same title!) that ties them?
• I wonder what personal interest Jacob Marcus has in this book?
• And will Leo find his long lost son and reveal their relationship?
What questions are you thinking at this point?
To me, the writing is engaging and the twists and turns have already kept me wanting to know more. It’s a bit complicated and complex but in a beautiful way, a way that that makes me want to really understand the characters’ journeys. I’m touched by how much loss both Leo and young Alma and her family have endured and think this thread (and the theme of love) will become even stronger as we read on. Krauss keeps me involved but also keeps me guessing, wondering, and questioning what’s to come. Did you feel the same way?
I also find myself so curious when we meet characters in any book whose lives seem so disconnected and yet they end up “bumping into each other” along the way. Do you enjoy that writing method as well?
More next week.