Study Guide

The History of Love Family

By Nicole Krauss


My mother is lonely even when we're around here, but sometimes my stomach hurts when I think about what will happen to her when I grow up and go away to start the rest of my life. Other times I imagine I'll never be able to leave at all. (2.35)

Alma imagines that her mother's grief will render her incapable of living alone. And she thinks that her father's early death will make her lose the chance at living her own life.

I didn't think it would be so painful. And yet. To hear people talk about the son I'd only been able to imagine as if he were as familiar to them as a relative was almost too much to bear. (4.97)

Leo can't truly grieve for Isaac, since he never really knew his son. Instead he grieves for himself, and for the relationship they never had.

I used to fantasize about disasters, floods, earthquakes, the world thrown into chaos so that I'd have a reason to go to him and sweep him up under my coat. When I'd given up my hope of extenuating circumstances I started to dream about our being thrown together by chance. (10.15)

Leo imagines himself as a strong father figure, bravely protecting his son. He hopes for devastating disasters that might finally allow him to do so. But he's incapable of mustering the courage to become a father on his own.

What would I have said to him, my only child? Forgive me, your mother didn't love me the way I wanted to be loved; perhaps I didn't love her the way she needed, either? (10.20)

Is Leo just being generous? Or could he really have done something differently to bring about some other ending with his beloved?

And then I thought: Perhaps that is what it means to be a father—to teach your child to live without you. If so, no one was a greater father than I. (10.22)

There is no way that Leo really believes this. What kind of father do you think he would have been, had he been given the chance?

"You shouldn't have to always be polite with your family." "Why not?" "It would be better if people just said what they meant." (11.3)

This relatively benign interaction betrays just how different Alma's and her mother's ideas are about their relationship: Alma wants normalcy and lightheartedness; her mother wants intimacy and profundity. Don't forget, Ma—Alma is still just a girl.

"Come give me a hug," she said, so I did, even though I didn't feel like it. "How did you get so tall?" I shrugged, hoping she wouldn't go on. "I'm going to the library," I told her, which was a lie, but by the way she was looking at me I knew she hadn't really heard, since it wasn't me she saw. (11.6)

Alma is clearly suggesting that her mother is using her as a surrogate for her father. That she is dishonest with her mother twice (giving her a meaningless hug and then lying about the library) without her mom even noticing is evidence of that myopia (a big, fun word for shortsightedness).

She turned to look at me over her shoulder. "Dad used to love to garden," she said, as if I'd never known him at all. (11.25)

Once again, Alma is offended by her mother's blindness and insensitivity toward Alma's own processing of grief over her father's death.


Alma provides a list of memories from both her mother and her father. They both hail from distant, unknown lands—England and Israel, respectively, and also South America and Europe. This just reinforces Alma's isolation from her family, both historically and emotionally.

Then Dr. Vishnubakat said Can I ask you a question and I sad Depends and he said Do you miss your father and I said I don't really remember him, and he said I think it would be very hard to lose your father, and I didn't say anything. If you want to know why I didn't say anything it's because I don't like it when anyone talks about Dad unless they knew him. (14.8)

Again, each character has a unique way of dealing with grief. Little does Bird know that Alma—whom he turns to for the scoop on their father—didn't actually know him nearly as much as she suggests.