THE HISTORY OF LOVE
by nicole krauss
this book is short stories and novel at the same time, which i really like. the cover is quite a pain in the ass though. really. GOOD BOOKS WITH BAD COVERS ARE A GLOBAL ISSUE. one could simply dismiss this precious read at the corner of bookshelf whose surface is a free landing for any kind of dust just because of its appearance (+horrible typeface) that resembles that of a chicklit; but fortunately it won't happen because the book has gained recognition ever since it was shortlisted for the orange prize for fiction 2006. hence unless you've got a bundle of luck you'll always find this book missing from library shelves
i don't read a lot of 'award-material' books but i like this book
in this book it seems like a lot of voices are talking to you, one wave after another, and yet the narrative doesn't let them overwhelm you. among the voices are leopold gursky's, an old writer whose book according to his own awareness has not been read by more than a handful that matter to him; zvi litvinoff's, leo's friend who has good intention but eventually sets it on fire; alma singer's, who tries to make his mommy happy after her dad's death; bird a.k.a emmanual chaim's, alma's brother who wants to make alma happy so that he can prove himself a lamed vovnik, and the voice of the book called the history of love itself, that strings all these people from different eras and tales together.
i feel like the book has a very balanced, careful sense of fantasy and reality. it's like foer's everything is illuminated but this is definitely easier to relate with because it is set in our time and is more about human relationships and less about magic, or shall i say it's more about the magic in human interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. i like how leopold gursky often drifts off to his past; which is often left hanging there, vivid yet distant in quality, which in his cases is enough i.e i don't demand any explanation to any of his recounts, i don't wonder whether it really happens/not, they just seem pure. he's also an agreeable character as well, despite his messiness and often lack of preparation measures and courage, exerts sincerity and love throughout his life. maybe he dwells too long in his past but this impression sometimes never dawns on me because everything written seems very true and genuine (proven that in the end he never loves any other woman). yet he still keeps going on with what he has. when i am old i think i want to be a little like leo gursky, who seems to possess that bright, envy-worthy vigor of an indeterminate age
the book history of love is basically about the book called the history of love. the featured book is very beautiful, i like its analogies and the way the sentences there have certain rings to them. in fact, ALMOST every page of the book (the history of love written by nicole krauss not by a character in her book) has a specifically celestial touch to it, i feel like by the end i have invested well in all the narratives and the characters.
here i am going to quote the first chapter of the book also titled the history of love written by our main character
THE AGE OF SILENCE
The first language human had was gestures. There was nothing primitive about this language that flowed from people's hands, nothing we say now that couldn't be said in the endless array of movements possible with the fine bones of the fingers and wrists. The gestures were complexe and subtle, involving a delicacy of motion that has since been lost completely.
During the age of silence, people communicated more, not less. Basic survival demanded that the hands were almost never still, and so it was only during sleep (and sometimes not even then) that people were not saying something or other. No distinction was made between the gestures of language and the gestures of life. The labor of building a house, say, or preparing a meal was no less an expression than making the sign for I love you or I feel serious. When a hand was used to shield one's face when frightened something was being said, and when fingers were used to pick up what someone else had dropped something was being said; and even when the hands were at rest, that, too, was saying something. Naturally, there were misunderstandings. There were times when a finger might have been lifted to scratch a nose, and if casual eye contact was made with one's lover just then, the lover might accidentally take it to be the gesture, not at all dissimilar, for Now I realize I was wrong to love you. These mistakes were heartbreaking. And yet, because people knew how easily they could happen, because they didn't go around with the illusion that they understood perfectly the things other people said, they were used to interrupting each other to ask if they'd understood correctly. Sometimes these misunderstandings were even desirable, since they gave people a reason to say, Forgive me, I was only scratching my nose. Of course I know I've always been right to love you. Because of the frequency of these mistakes, over time the gesture for asking forgiveness evolved into the simplest form. Just to open your palm was to say: Forgive me.
Aside from one exception, almost no record exists of this first language. The exception, on which all knowledge of the subject is based, is a collection of seventy-nine fossil gestures, prints of human hands frozen in midsentence and housed in a small museum in Buenos Aires. One holds the gesture for Sometimes when the rain, another for After all these years, another for Was I wrong to love you? They were found in Morocco in 1903 by an Argentine doctor named Antonio Alberto de Biedma. He was hiking in the High Atlas Mountains when he discovered the cave where the seventy-nine gestures were pressed into the shale. He studied them for years without getting any closer to understanding, until one day, already suffering the fever of the dysentery that would kill him, he suddenly found himself able to decipher the meanings of the delicate motions of fists and fingers trapped in stone. Soon afterwards he was taken to a hospital in Fez, and as he lay dying his hands moved like birds forming a thousand gestures, dormant all those years.
If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom you feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms–if you find yourself at a loss for what to do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognize the foreignness of your own body–it’s because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what’s inside and what’s outside, was so much less. It’s not that we’ve forgotten the language of gestures entirely. The habit of moving our hands while we speak is left over from it. Clapping, pointing, giving the thumbs-up, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together. And at night, when it’s too dark to see, we find it necessary to gesture on each other’s bodies to make ourselves understood.unlike the way he writes, leo speaks of the present (this means any occasion when he talks about the past is also excluded) as if he is a close friend; light and funny, whose jokes you can understand once you get used to (which will pretty much happens in an instant) his friendship with his friend from the childhood, bruno.
this is leo glossing over his physical appearance
As a child my mother and my aunts used to tell me that I would grow up to become handsome. It was clear to me that I wasn't anything to look at then, but I believed that some measure of beauty might come to me eventually. I don't know what I thought: that my ears, which stuck out at an undignified angle, would recede, that my head would somehow grow to fit them? That my hair, not unlike a toilet brush in texture, would, with time, unkink itself and reflect light? That my face, which held so little promise--eyelids as heavy as a frog's, lips on the thin side—would somehow transform itself into something not regrettable? For years I would wake up in the morning and go to the mirror, hoping. Even when I was too old to continue hoping, I still did. I grew older and there was no improvement. If anything, things went downhill when I entered adolescence and was abandoned by the pleasant attractiveness that all children have. The year of my Bar Mitzvah I was visited by a plague of acne that stayed four years. But still I continued to hope. As soon as the acne cleared my hairline began to recede, as if it wanted to disassociate itself from the embarrassment of my face. My ears, please with the new attention they now enjoyed, seemed to strain farther into the spotlight. My eyelids dropped--some muscle tension had to give to support the struggle of the ears—and my eyebrows took on a life of their own, for a brief period achieving all anyone could have hoped for them, and then surpassing those hopes and approaching Neanderthal. For years I continued to hope that things would turn out differently, but I never looked in the mirror and confused what I saw for anything but what it was. With time I thought about it less and less. Then hardly at all. And yet. It's possible that some small part of me has never stopped hoping—that even now there are moments when I stand in front of the mirror, my wrinkled pischer in my hand, and believe my beauty is yet to come.this is leo reminiscing about the past
Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in a house across the field from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was Queen and he was King. In the autumn light, her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls. When the sky grew dark they parted with leaves in their hair. Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering. When they were ten he asked her to marry him. When they were eleven he kissed her for the first time. When they were thirteen they got into a fight and for three weeks they didn’t talk. Their love was a secret they told no one. He promised her he would never love another girl as long as he lived. What if I die? She asked. Even then, he said. For her sixteenth birthday he gave her an English dictionary and together they learned the words. What’s this? He’d ask, tracing his index finger around her ankle, and she’d look it up. And this? He’d ask, kissing her elbow. Elbow? What kind of word is that? and then he’d lick it, making her giggle. What about this? He asked, touching the soft skin behind her ear. I don’t know, she said, turning off the flashlight and rolling over, with a sigh, onto her back. Later–when things happened that they could never have imagined–she wrote to him a letter that said: When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything?
whereas alma speaks in more organized manner, each part starts with a heading (one of the reasons why the book reminds me of foer's eil)
I. MY FATHER DID NOT LIKE TO WRITE LETTERS
The old Cadbury tin full of my mother’s letters doesn’t contain any of his replies. I’ve looked for them everywhere, but never found them. Also, he didn’t leave me a letter to open when I got older. I know because I asked my mother if he did, and she said No. She said he was not that sort of man. When I asked her what sort of man he was she thought for a minute. Her forehead creased. She thought some more. Then she said he was the sort of man who liked to challenge authority. “Also,” she said, “he couldn’t sit still.” This was not the way I remember him. I remember him sitting in chairs or lying in beds. Except for when I was very litttle and thought that being an “engineer” meant he drove a train. Then I imagined him in the seat of an engine car the color of coal, a string of shiny passenger cars trailing behind. One day my father laughed and corrected me. Everything snapped into focus. It’s one of those unforgettable moments that happen as a child, when you discover that all along the world has been betraying you.some book endings leave you hungry for more, which are often described by many as a desirable characteristic of a good book, but i personally prefer this book's ending. it's like the bell jar, whose ending is not a second too late/too early, the final sentence/page/chapter wrap the whole story perfectly, like two hands embracing and clasping a warm creature
the synopsis on the book's back really does not do the book any justice, might say it even does the book a great disservice; but i feel like it's hard indeed to find a fitting synopsis because it's not just about how the separate narratives entangle themselves, it's not only about big picture but also little details, and aspects to life featured in the book, e.g kinship, friendship, love in its most immaculate sense, worldly desire mistaken for love (read this, a common truth rephrased: if he ever envied her being taken it wasn't out of any special feeling for Alma, but out of a wish to be likewise singled out and loved alone), a little bit of history: holocaust, migrations, writing as in putting your thoughts across, LIFE—or like what i mentioned before, those lovely rings.
a lot of pagetips were folded during my reading
i might not be as excited about this book when i grow up, via excitement usually dwindles with age, eg when i read the bell jar, the virgin suicides, or the god of small things this is what i thought: 'i don't think i'll ever read a better book' -> 'i've never read a better book' -> 'the book is very great' -> 'the book is good' -> 'ok' in a chronological order
so i thought i want to at least remember, 'when i was eighteen i used to like nicole krauss' or 'i had a great time reading the history of love'
everything else does not matter
PS. apparently, someone says it's more similar to foer's extremely loud & incredibly close (which i haven't read), and i just remember that THEY ARE MARRIED and wrote these two books at the same time