In our final section of the book, Krauss takes us back to the Singers: Uncle Julian heading home, Charlotte becoming “more withdrawn, or…obscure, as in faint, unclear, distant.” And Alma’s memories of her dad becoming “more faint, unclear, distant.” Nice parallel writing.
Alma digs into trying to figure out who Isaac Moritz is and discovers his books, one beginning with this: “Jacob Marcus stood waiting for his mother….” At last, we—and Alma—know who “Marcus” is.
Alma asks her friend to drive her to Isaac’s house, but to no avail: “We sat together on the porch…swinging on a bench and watching the rain…. The next thing that happened was we kissed each other…and I felt happy and sad in equal parts…” Krauss has such a knack for describing teen angst/joy. Soon enough, Alma learns that Moritz—Marcus—has died, and realizes that her mother’s work on The History of Love is now just for her: “Mom, I need you to be…(there was so much I wanted to say…I started to cry)…Not sad.” Lovely words.
In the meantime, Bird continues to explore ideas of disasters, feeling not normal, and his sadness/confusion as a young teen: “Mom tried to hug me but I wouldn’t let her because she shouldn’t have let the fireman take down the ark, and also she should have asked me before she threw away everything that belonged to Dad.” More understanding of a teen and his losses, too.
We return to Leo, and Bruno shows him that his “Words for Everything” is included in a magazine excerpt as written by Isaac Moritz! The magazine noted that the excerpt was from Moritz’s last manuscript. Leo calls the magazine to find out where they got the piece. When he gives his name, he’s told that Leo Gursky is the name of a character from the story. He finds out the book’s publication date: “I’d like an early copy. I may not live until January to read about myself….” And he realizes that his son must have known about his existence: “If he’d read my book, he knew the truth. I was his father. He was my son.” I found this so powerful.
Bernard Moritz (Isaac’s half-brother) resurfaces, calls Alma (having found the note she’d left on Isaac’s door), but speaks to Bird. His conversation with Bird—about his brother’s death, about letters from Leo to their mother, Alma, about Leo’s History of Love—confuses the boy. But he hopes to help Alma solve the puzzle.
Leo finds Alma’s note asking him to meet her on a bench at the Central Park Zoo. “So this is how they send the angel. With the name of the girl you always loved.” Touching. Krauss takes us to the bench that is their meeting place. In simple and beautiful descriptions, we read of Leo’s waiting, wondering and assuming death is near. “Sometimes I think: I am older than this tree, older than this bench, older than the rain. And yet. I’m not older than the rain. It’s been falling for years and after I go it will keep on falling.” Sad and sweet. He ponders too about the love and loss of his Alma. He recalls the SS soldiers, their execution of his family, and how, hiding, he is saved from discovery because the soldiers are distracted by a conversation about a cheating wife. (Bruno, it turns out, was not as fortunate. Were you shocked when you found out the truth about him?) Leo realizes that this wife had saved him and she “never knew, and how that, too, is part of the history of love.” Here is he waiting for the love of his life, waiting for his death.
Alma tries to figure out who Leo is among those seated on the benches, but then sees a card pinned to one man’s chest: “My name is Leo Gursky. I have no family. Please call Pinelawn cemetery. I have a plot there in the Jewish park. Thank you for your consideration.”
Back and forth they try to decipher the mystery of this meeting. They talk about Zvi, David, Charlotte, Alma M., in their confusions—for different reasons—trying to fit these characters and the pieces together. Alma: “Were you ever in love with a girl named Alma Mereminski? The son you think didn’t know existed, was his name Isaac Moritz?”
Krauss ends with such a lovely moment between her two main characters—from two different worlds and times and places, connecting. Connecting in such a sweet and powerful way. To me, a beautiful ending.
How about you? Were you surprised? Pleased? Relieved? Touched? Disappointed?
Thanks for joining me on this read. I enjoyed this book so much—found it curious, complicated, passionate, sad, and more. What did you all think?