Okay, Shmoopers, what do we have here? Well, we've got one old man in New York who finds a book underneath his pillow, one he himself wrote fifty years earlier. Then, we have a teenage girl searching for a woman who might not really exist. (This lady's both a character in her mother's favorite book and the woman the teenager was named after—got all that?) And, fifty years and an ocean away, we have a mysterious man who one night gets out of bed and starts writing something nice for his wife.
This tale of a tangle of lives—The History of Love—is Nicole Krauss's highly decorated second book, a New York Times bestseller that has been translated into over two dozen languages. This successful work, along with the rest of Krauss's writing, is often compared to that of her similarly successful novelist/ex-husband, Jonathan Safran Foer. (Before their recent separation, they were basically the literary equivalent of Brangelina, or Marie and Pierre Curie.)
Foer's debut novel, Everything is Illuminated, tells the story of a young American Jew who travels to Ukraine searching for the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The specter of the Holocaust is an undeniable presence in The History of Love too, and we'll add that both tales are written in a literary voice that's hard to come by, yet strikingly similar between the two. Before you accuse them of copying, though, let it be known that they met (and fell madly in love, obvi) after they published their books (their Dutch editor thought they'd hit it off).
Along with their similar writing styles, the pair shares similar fascinations. For instance, although Krauss deals less overtly with questions of contemporary Jewish identity than her husband does, the dedication in the book—"To my grandparents, who taught me the opposite of disappearing"—illustrates a similar preoccupation with Old World ancestry and the past. Well, wherever her inspiration comes from, we'll take it.
As for The History of Love, Krauss has said that it's about "people who love books, and the way in which books facilitate love." But with a title like this one, surely such a humble description just won't cut it. A New York Times review of The History of Love in 2005 dubbed the book "Jewish Magic Realism," perhaps as a way of describing how the novel somehow—maybe by magic?—weaves together very different threads into a beautiful brocade of love, loss, and literature.
The History of Love isn't really much of a history at all. It's really more like a meditation on love, or an exploration of love. It's the story of a bunch of people who are—you guessed it—searching for love, but also searching for themselves and trying to find their places in the world. It's about the relationships between grief and hope, loneliness and friendship, silence and communication.
Wait, sorry—does that sound too much like every sappy, heavy, melodramatic book you've ever laid eyes on? Rest assured, this book has nothing in common with whatever book you're thinking of. Unless that book is totally awesome—in which case they're actually quite similar.
How awesome is this book? Just imagine if Disneyland had a roller coaster that celebrated the human condition in all its messiness and beauty. Now imagine that it could take you soaring high and plunging low over three continents and sixty years, all in the scope of a single ride. And instead of, you know, pirates and a certain tropical body of water, you might see a teenage girl writing in a secret notebook called How to Survive in the Wild. Or a young man hiding from Nazis in a potato cellar. Or a small boy leaping from a second story window, believing he can fly. Yup, we're pretty sure you'd say that's one pretty amazing coaster. Well, guess what. It also happens to be The History of Love.
The Official Nicole Krauss Website
Check out interviews with the author, find out where she'll be going on book tour, and enjoy some über-hip graphics. Oh, how we love NYC authors and their hipness.
Check out some seriously impressive praise for The History of Love.
The History of Love
A film adaptation of the novel is set to be released in 2016.
Dig this interview with Krauss in New York Magazine.
Interview with Nicole Krauss
Krauss briefly describes the philosophy behind her writing.
With Jeffrey Eugenides and Jhumpa Lahiri
Here's Krauss talking about writing with two of her fellow novelists.
Here she is reading from her novel Great House.
Nicole Krauss in 2010
Krauss is photographed by the New York Times for a review of her third novel, Great House.
Nicole and Jonathan
Here she is with her one-time hubby, fellow famous author Jonathan Safran Foer. Before they split, these two were the ultimate literary power couple.