Saturday, July 5, 2008

The History of Love

This was a fantastic read. I am truly happy that I suggested it in the Readers Anonymous Club, and the members voted for it. Nicole Krauss is obviously very well-read which is always delightful with new authors. Normally, you don't expect young writers to invest so much intellectual knowledge in their first fiction novel; however, Krauss does a great job in combining an innovative plot with a good deal of themes explored by classic authors. Besides the central themes of love and loss, life and death, the form of the text offers an interesting angle on reading and writing. The multiplicity of texts within the text are interwoven in a masterful way, which also allows for the innovative plot. On several occasions, Krauss plays with the reader's expectation as established by an initial contract between author and reader. For example, there is a part in Alma's diary when she imagines how she meets Isaac after the reader has ascertained his death through the suffering of his father and by going to his funeral. The imagined meeting in the diary of Alma sounds like a real scene from her life and thus peppers the sense of the reader with suspicion: is Isaac somehow alive. Just a few lines later, the following entry of Alma's journal reveals the joke that Krauss played on her reader.

There is a lot to be said about the Jewish theme of the book. However, I don't consider it as an advantage or as a particularly interesting element in the novel. Perhaps, there are a few characteristics of Bird that stem from the Jewish theme: he believes that he is a vovnik, or even the Messiah. Well, Krauss does a great job in picking memorable characteristics for her characters even without incorporating the Jewish theme. I suppose that there is a certain attachment of American authors to see Polish characters only in relation to Jewishness. I feel like Krauss would have done better, had she distinguished herself from the majority in this regard.

Some critics blame Krauss for using too many elements "similar" or even "identical" to ones in her husband's books which happen to be more popular. There is one blue glass vase which Leo Gursky finds in the house of his son. Apparently, this is a vase that the writing couple owns and is a family relic. I am not sure why the critics would even try to hunt for similarities of the sort, though I am convinced that good fiction owes its virtues to the small and remarkable elements. Still, how they made it to the text is less if an interest to me as a reader.

At the end of the book, Krauss uses an innovative way to reveal the decisive meeting between Leo Gursky and Alma. The technique, in which each character's first-person thoughts are related on a separate page, creates an intriguing mode for the reader. Still, I was expecting it to break and provide one more of Krauss's narrative jokes. It did not. In fact, by the end of the conversation, I was tired of its persistence. After such a radical narrative technique, I was not ready at all for the last page of the book with its formality that killed some of the book's poetry.

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