Study Guide

The History of Love Love

By Nicole Krauss


Twenty-five percent of my heart muscle died. (1.9)

So one could say that Leo literally has a broken heart—poor guy.

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. (1.32)

Does it go without saying that the girl would like Leo to make this promise? Why does she not make the promise as well?

She'd stroke my hair and say, "I love you so much," and when I sneezed I'd say, "Bless you, you know how much I love you, don't you?" and when I got up for a tissue she'd say, "Let me get it for you I love you so much," [...] and I always wanted to say, but never said: Love me less. (2.17)

Alma makes the argument that love can be a form of oppression. We're pretty sure there's nothing about this in Leo's version of The History of Love.

When I was little my mother used to get a certain look in her eyes and say, "One day you're going to fall in love." I wanted to say, but never said: Not in a million years. (2.46)

Alma and her mother have taken away very different lessons from Alma's father. Alma's mother holds dear the memory of their falling in love and their time together. Alma, though, can only see how his death has destroyed her mother.

She learned back and looked at him with something like hurt, and then he almost but didn't say the two sentences he'd been meaning to say for years: Part of me is made of glass, and also, I love you. (2.71)

Falling in love means exposing our fragile selves to someone else, and having to trust them to not break our hearts (and assorted other breakable body parts).

I thought we were fighting for something more than her love, he said.

Now it was my turn to look out the window.

What is more than her love? I asked. (7.99-101)

Is this a rhetorical question, or is Leo hoping to find something else to fill the hollowness within himself?

And that's when he saw them. They were standing about ten yards away. Gursky was leaning against a fence, and Alma was leaning against him. Litvinoff watched as Gursky took her face in his hands. She paused, and then lifted her face to meet his. And as Litvinoff watched them kiss, he felt that everything that belonged to him was worthless. (12.5)

This episode is a nice outside perspective on the magic that existed between Leo and his Alma. But it carries greater weight in light of what comes later. Leo writes The History of Love in honor of his muse, and Litvinoff plagiarizes his words and calls them his own as a way of effectively stealing this moment as well.

Angels don't get married. To begin with they are too busy, and secondly they don't fall in love with each other. (If you don't know what it feels like to have someone you love put a hand below your bottom rib for the first time, what chance is there for love?) [...] This is not to say they don't feel love, because they do; sometimes they feel it so strongly that they think they're having a panic attack. (12.17)

The History of Love introduces the element of physicality into the discussion of love. How does this description of angels' love compare to the love of plain old human beings?

The night before Litvinoff died, as the rain pounded on the roof and coursed through the gutters, he'd called out to Rosa. She'd been washing the dishes, and hurried to him. "What is it, darling?" she asked, putting her hand on his forehead. He coughed so hard she thought he was going to spit up blood. When it passed, he said, "There's something I want to tell you." She waited, listening. "I—" he began, but the cough returned, sending him into convulsions. "Shh," Rosa said, covering his lips with her fingers. "Don't speak." Litvinoff took her hand and squeezed it. "I need to," he said, and for once his body complied and was quiet. [...] "I wanted you to love me," he whispered. Rosa looked at him. He seemed to her, just then, like the child they never had. "And I did love you," she said. (12.23)

Here Litvinoff professes his love as an excuse (imagine) for having plagiarized The History of Love—which Rosa knows he did, even though he doesn't know that she knows. With that in mind, how do we take her use of the past tense, saying she did love him? Is she saying that because he's dying, or because she hasn't loved him since she found out the truth about the book?

Really there isn't much to say.

He was a great writer.

He fell in love.

It was his life. (Epilogue)

What is the "it" in this passage, taken from Leo's auto-obituary?