Study Guide

The History of Love The Home

By Nicole Krauss

The Home

The place isn't big. I have to struggle to keep a path clear between bed and toilet, toilet and kitchen table, kitchen table and front door. (1.1)

Leo's cluttered apartment is a potent symbol of the cluttered nature of his mind—both filled with things from his past that he cannot discard.

They lived in a sunny house covered with bougainvillea in Ramat Gan. My father planted an olive tree and a lemon tree in the garden, and dug a little trench around each for water to collect. (2.11)

Usually people plant trees when they're planning on sticking around a place for a while, right? But Alma's parents leave, like, right after planting these trees. Who is her father planting them for, then? For the next tenants? Or for the sake of the trees themselves?

She didn't like America, but she didn't hate it, either. Two and a half years and eight gazillion books later, she had Bird. Then we moved to Brooklyn. (2.12)

Alma doesn't elaborate on her mother's feelings about America. So what are we supposed to think about her tepid feelings about it? Also, does this passage suggest that Bird is a stabilizing influence on the family?

"Where are you planning to sleep, the Arctic Circle?" she asked. I thought, There or maybe the Peruvian Andes, since that's where Dad once camped. [...] I started to keep a notebook called How to Survive in the Wild. (2.21-22)

Juxtaposing these thoughts—along with Alma's interest in her father's tent—places her interest in the wilderness not solely as a way to escape her mother's smothering tendencies, but to connect with her father. Seen in this light, Alma's wilderness isn't wilderness at all, but yet another hypothetical home.

The fact that she stayed home all day in her pajamas translating books by mostly dead people didn't seem to help matters much. (2.28)

Charlotte Singer's disinterest in meeting new people is epitomized by the fact that she never even leaves the familiarity of her home.

It must have taken another few weeks for my mother's reply to arrive in Venice, and by then Jacob Marcus had most likely gone, leaving instructions for his mail to be forwarded. In the beginning, I pictured him as very tall and thin with a chronic cough, speaking the few words of Italian he knew with a terrible accent, one of those sad people who are never at home anywhere. (2.57)

Does Alma imagine Jacob "never at home anywhere" as a reaction to her mother never leaving the house? Or does this image suggest something more fundamental about his character?

He carries nothing. Or at least he appears to carry nothing, not an umbrella even though it looks like rain, or a briefcase though it's rush hour, and around him, stopped against the wind, people are making their way home to their warm houses at the edge of the city where their children lean over their homework at the kitchen table, the smell of dinner in the air, and probably a dog, because there is always a dog in such houses. (2.67)

Although this one's an excerpt from The History of Love, it's not difficult to imagine this describing Leo in downtown Manhattan—he has nothing, yet all around him is everything.

From then on, I took an even greater pride in my work. I'd bring the most difficult locks home and time myself. Then I'd cut the time in half and practice until I got there. I'd keep at it until I couldn't feel my fingers. (7.66)

This is a rather potent image of the emptiness of Leo's emotional life, and how he uses his work to fill the void in his home that might otherwise be filled with family, pets, writing, and so on.

He learned to live with the truth. Not to accept it, but to live with it. It was like living with an elephant. His room was tiny, and every morning he had to squeeze around the truth just to get to the bathroom. To reach the armoire to get a pair of underpants he had to crawl under the truth, praying it wouldn't choose that moment to sit on his face. At night, when he closed his eyes, he felt it looming above him. (9.11)

When we leave the house, we put on armor to face the world. At home, we take off our shoes, our coat, our hat—and let our guard down. This leaves Litvinoff armorless, defenseless against a flood of painful memories and realities. (Also: how does Litvinoff's crawling around his apartment remind you of the opening paragraph of the book?)

I half expected someone to be home. As far as I knew, Isaac had lived by himself. But you never know. (10.19)

Leo's image of his son is, in many ways, of a man utterly different from himself. So he can't help but imagine that, in contrast to his own loneliness, Isaac would share his home with someone else. The line "you never know" reminds us of the privacy that only the home provides.