Study Guide

The History of Love

The History of Love Summary

You want brief? Go read some tweets. This is a twisty, turn-y, intricate book, Shmoopers. We're gonna need you to bear with us here. If we skimp on one plot detail, trust us—it will become super-important later on. You'll just have to read on to find out what we mean:

So, a lot happens in the book's first pages, and very quickly. First, we're introduced to one Leopold Gursky, an old man with a bad heart. He tells us he worked as a locksmith most of his life, but he used to be a writer. He immigrated to New York from Poland after World War II, after the love of his life made the same trip a few years earlier. Unfortunately, after she made that trek, she gave birth to a son (Leo's) and married another man. This son grows up to be a famous writer named Isaac Moritz. Although Leo obsessively follows Isaac's career, they have never met, and Isaac does not know he exists. One night, on a whim, Leo sends him the manuscript of a book he has been writing.

Next we meet a teenage girl in Brooklyn named Alma Singer, who tells us right up front that she was named after a girl in a book called The History of Love (huh?). Her father died when she was young, and she really likes to talk about how awesome a guy he was. Her mother, a book translator, is still in mourning and isn't doing so well. One day a letter arrives from a man named Jacob Marcus asking her to translate a book called The History of Love (double-huh?) from Spanish into English. Alma thinks maybe this man should be her mother's new boyfriend, and goes about trying to set them up. When her mother sends the first installment of the translation, Alma secretly inserts a love letter written in her mother's name.

The third thread in this crazy, not-yet-interwoven story introduces us to Zvi Litvinoff—the author of The History of Love. Litvinoff is dead, but lived in Chile after emigrating from Poland during World War II. The book was originally written in Yiddish, but his wife Rosa helped him translate it into Spanish. Only a few thousand copies were published, one of which ended up in a bookstore in Santiago, Chile, where it was picked up by a young man named David Singer—none other than Alma's father.

We briefly return to Leo Gursky's Manhattan, only to learn that his son Isaac has died. Leo is devastated and crashes the funeral. When he gets home from the service, he finds a brown paper package waiting for him, with "a stack of printed pages" inside. When he starts to read, he realizes the words are his own.

Then we're back across the river in Brooklyn with Alma, who has decided to find out more about this Jacob Marcus, and why The History of Love is so darn important to him. She realizes that, curiously, all the characters in the book have Spanish names except one—Alma Mereminski. She decides this other Alma must be super-important and sets out to find her.

Okay, now we're hanging out with Zvi Litvinoff again, but we're not in Chile anymore, because he's reminiscing about when he used to live in Minsk (capital of present-day Belarus). He used to work for a newspaper, writing obituaries. One day he goes to visit a friend, who is sick in bed. While his friend sleeps, he finds a stack of pages on the desk—obituaries of famous writers, written by his sick friend. The one at the very bottom is titled—are you ready for this?—"THE DEATH OF LEOPOLD GURSKY."

But Leopold Gursky is actually very much alive, alone in his apartment sixty years later, reading something he wrote "so long ago" that has been mysteriously returned to him. And, hey, it turns out he knew someone named Alma too: the love of his life, the mother of his famous son, Isaac. What are the odds?

Across the East River, Alma is still looking for... Alma. She calls Information. She checks the records of New York City births and deaths, but doesn't find anything. What she does find is the secret diary of her younger brother Bird, who has become a devout Jew and thinks he just might be the Messiah.

Still reminiscing, Zvi Litvinoff leaves Europe with a brown paper package given to him by his formerly-sick friend, on which is written, "To be held for Leopold Gursky until you see him again." Zvi moves to Chile, works as a pharmacist, and assumes that Leo died in the Holocaust. Some years later he meets Rosa, and they begin dating. One night he takes out the brown paper package, removes his friend Leo's manuscript from inside, and burns the envelope.

Next we're back to Leo, who's taking the train from Grand Central to Connecticut. He breaks into Isaac's empty home (remember: he's a locksmith). He looks for the manuscript he sent Isaac, hoping for proof that his son read it before he died.

Alma finds a record of Alma Mereminski in the New York City marriage records, learning that she married Mordecai Moritz in 1942. She takes the subway to her apartment and learns that the elder Alma is dead (very disappointing). The doorman suggests she should try to contact the lady's son, Isaac. Back home, Alma learns that her mother has sent another installment of the translation without her having been able to include another love letter (also very disappointing).

Zvi Litvinoff begins to transcribe his friend's book, The History of Love, page by page. He changes all the names—except Alma's—and, at the end of the book, he affixes his friend's auto-obituary. He then tries to dispose of Leo's original—throws it in the trash, buries it in the garden—but he's so haunted by his conscience that he locks the pages in a drawer and hides the key instead. Rosa then helps him translate the book from Yiddish into Spanish.

Shortly after it's published, a letter arrives from America. Rosa, assuming it to be a belated rejection letter from a publisher, intercepts the letter, which is actually from Leo, asking Litvinoff to return his manuscript. Although she had discovered the hidden manuscript years earlier, she totally disregarded it, so it's only now that she learns the truth about The History of Love. The next day they go on a picnic and she purposefully floods the house to destroy Gursky's original manuscript. Now that's one heck of a pair.

Alma turns fifteen years old and goes to the library to check out Isaac Moritz's books. His most famous protagonist is named Jacob Marcus. (Reminder: this is also the name of the guy who requested the translation of The History of Love—is your mind spinning in circles yet?) She drives to Isaac's house to ask him about The History of Love (the same place Leo drove to), but no one is home, so she leaves a note on the door. Ten days later, she finds out he's dead.

Out of nowhere, a fourth narrator appears—Alma's brother Bird. He tells us that he's been selling lemonade to buy a plane ticket to Israel and so he can build an ark. It turns out he thinks there's going to be a flood. But he's recently been experiencing a crisis of faith, after things started going sour for him.

Leo Gursky finds a short story published in a literary magazine, which is attributed to Isaac. It's from the manuscript he'd sent to his son at the beginning of the book. Someone has obviously found it among Isaac's things and assumed that the dead author wrote it. Leo wonders if this means his son read it before he died, in which case he would know the truth—that Leo was his true dad. In the mail he finds a letter asking him to meet at the Central Park Zoo that coming Saturday. It is signed "Alma."

Bird decides he should try to do something helpful. So he sneaks a peek at Alma's notebook (we're not sure how this is "helpful," but we digress), where she's been keeping notes of her search for Alma Mereminski. Assuming this "Alma" to refer to his sister, Bird misinterprets other comments in the notebook and concludes his sister had a different father from his own, and that she's searching for the guy.

One day, the phone rings: it's Isaac Moritz's half-brother Bernard. He says he found Alma's note at Isaac's house (about The History of Love), and it reminded him of something Isaac had told him before he died, about some letters he'd found in their mother's drawer. The letters made clear that Isaac's real father was the author of a book called The History of Love. Bird, knowing the book, asks if the man's name was Zvi Litvinoff, and the man tells him no, it was Leopold Gursky. So Bird writes Leo a letter.

Alma receives a letter too, with the same request for a meeting that Saturday, signed "Leopold Gursky." The two meet on a park bench. Leo has been badly shaken by recent events and assumes he is being led toward death. Alma arrives and Leo believes her to be an angel. She begins telling Leo what she believes about the book—that it was written in Spanish by Zvi Litvinoff, etc.—and after confirming that the Alma in the novel is indeed real, realizes the truth: his book was not really lost in a flood, and this girl was named after his Alma. Alma immediately grasps the totality of the situation—that this old man had once loved a girl named Alma Mereminski, that this man's unknown son was Isaac Moritz, that she had been searching for the wrong person all along, and that Leo Gursky wrote The History of Love.

The History of Love ends with the auto-obituary that ends The History of Love within… The History of Love. See? We told you it was all wrapped up inside itself.

  • Chapter 1: The Last Words on Earth

    • Leo Gursky is expecting to die today—or maybe tomorrow. So he's busy thinking about his obituary.
    • He's certainly not busy cleaning house. His apartment is ridiculously cluttered. There is only a narrow path—like a baseball diamond—between "bed and toilet, toilet and kitchen table, kitchen table and front door" (1.1).
    • He is terrified of dying on a day when he has not been seen by another human being. So he forces himself to go out and, for example, intentionally drop things at the supermarket, so that at least a few folks will notice him.
    • Much of this fear stems from a time when his neighbor died and it was three days before anyone found her body.
    • His friend Bruno lives upstairs, and they check on each other often, finding excuses to make sure the other is alive and well. They've known each other since childhood.
    • Leo spends a little time recalling his past:
    • When he first arrived in America, the only person he knew was his second cousin, who was a locksmith. So Leo became a locksmith too.
    • Later, the cousin died and Leo took over the business. He sent half the profits to the cousin's widow, even after she got married again (to a doctor, no less).
    • All in all, he was a locksmith for over fifty years.
    • One day, Leo had a heart attack, and one-quarter of his heart muscle died (so, you know, you could say he literally has a broken heart).
    • Some years ago, Bruno tried to kill himself. Leo found his friend on the floor, next to an empty bottle of pills.
    • Leo grew up in a town called Slonim, "which was sometimes Poland and sometimes Russia" (1.14).
    • He wanted to be a writer—it was the only thing he loved to do.
    • He wrote three books before he turned twenty-one, all of which have been lost.
    • There was only one person whose opinion he valued: a girl he was in love with. He gave her his first book, which she said was too realistic.
    • So he wrote another, a fantastical work, and she said that he shouldn't "make up everything, because that made it hard to believe anything" (1.14).
    • So he started writing yet another book, "about the only thing [he] knew" (1.15). The girl moved to America, but still he continued writing the book.
    • Shortly after she left, World War II began, and with it came the persecution of Jews. Leo is in Slonim when the German tanks—the Einsatzgruppen—arrive. This is 1941.
    • Leo's mother urges him to flee into the woods. He stays there and hears shots from the village. Everyone in his family is killed.
    • Shortly after his heart attack (mentioned above), and fifty-seven years after writing the book for his love, he starts writing again. He knows he will never show it to anyone else. He writes 301 pages.
    • Back in Poland, after Leo's spent three-and-a-half years in hiding—"mostly in trees, but also cracks, cellars, holes" (1.34)—the Russian tanks arrive and the war ends. Leo leaves for America. He is twenty-five years old.
    • He arrives in New York and immediately goes to see his beloved. She is now married. And it turns out that, when she left Poland, she was pregnant with Leo's child.
    • She wrote him letters but Leo never responded, and she heard lots of stories of the Nazis killing Jews. She stopped going to work, and soon her boss's son came to visit and brought her flowers. A few months later she married him, and two years later they had another child.
    • She gives Leo a photograph of the boy, who is now five years old. His name is Isaac.
    • Leo asks her to come with him, but she says she can't. So he takes his hat and walks away.
    • Once upon a time, we are reminded, Leo promised never to love anyone else. He keeps his promise—not out of stubbornness or crazy loyalty, but because he can't help it.
    • Okay, so now we're back in the present. Leo has decided to pose as a nude model for an art class, as part of his "be seen by as many people as possible in case of death" thing.
    • The night before the class, he stands in front of the mirror and wishes he was a better looking fellow.
    • He describes the history of his non-handsomeness in great detail. Still, he says, over time, he became less and less hung up on it.
    • He wonders again who will be the first person to see him dead.
    • The next day he takes the bus to the art class. He arrives an hour early, since he assumed he would get lost on the way.
    • The address ends up being a sketchy old warehouse. Standing outside, he starts thinking that maybe he's going to be robbed and murdered.
    • But he isn't. It's really just an art class.
    • He is shown to a corner where there's a curtain he can change behind. He is terrified and regrets coming—"Suddenly I didn't care anymore about being seen" (1.44).
    • But then he remembers his most recent book and realizes that, although he thought he was writing it for himself, the truth is that he wants someone else to read it, too.
    • Then he steps out from behind the curtain and stands in front of the drawing class for what seems like hours. The teacher pays him fifteen dollars for his trouble.
    • He goes back to his apartment and falls asleep in his clothes.
    • In the middle of the night, he is woken by the phone ringing. It is someone needing a locksmith; the caller's locked out of his house.
    • Leo hesitates, saying he's retired, but the man is so disappointed that he finally relents and agrees to help the guy.
    • Again, it's the middle of the night—no buses—so he calls a car service. They send a limousine. It's pouring rain.
    • He gets to the guy's house and unlocks the door. They both go inside to dry off, and Leo walks over to the man's bookshelves to see if he has any of his son Isaac's books. He does.
    • Leo takes the opportunity to describe his favorite of his son's stories, called "Glass Houses." It goes like this:
    • There's an angel (yes, a real angel) that lives in downtown Manhattan. He can't remember why God put him on earth, so every night he talks to God and waits for an answer. He wanders around the city and sees so much suffering that he starts to think God's not such a good guy. Eventually he stops talking to God. One night he meets a man living under a bridge. He gets drunk and tells the man he's an angel, and (long story short) the guy gets mad and punches the angel, and the angel falls into the river and drowns. The end.
    • Leo keeps an index card in his wallet, just in case he dies. It reads: "MY NAME IS LEO GURSKY I HAVE NO FAMILY PLEASE CALL PINELAWN CEMETERY I HAVE A PLOT THERE IN THE JEWISH PART THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION" (1.96).
    • Leo looks at his son's photo on the book jacket and remembers the time he met his son at a book reading, but didn't have the guts to introduce himself.
    • Back in the unlocked house, the guy comes in and asks Leo if he knows Isaac's work. Leo says he's the author's father, but then changes his mind and says he's Isaac's uncle. And he then says okay so he's not really his uncle either.
    • He takes a cab home. It's three in the morning. He takes out the pages of the book he's been writing and decides to give the book a title: Words For Everything. Then he puts the pages in an envelope and writes his son's address on the front. He waits six hours for the post office to open and then leaves the apartment to go send the package.
  • Chapter 2: My Mother's Sadness

    • In the second chapter, we're introduced to Alma Singer, who tells us she is named after "every girl" (2.1) in a book called The History of Love. Our curiosity is piqued by that last part.
    • Her father gave her mother the book as a gift.
    • Alma has a younger brother named Emanuel Chaim, but everyone calls him Bird—ever since he jumped out a second-story window when he was six, trying to fly.
    • When he was nine, Bird found a book that belonged to their father, The Book of Jewish Thoughts. He immediately became a very devout Jew.
    • Their father died of cancer when Alma was seven. He was from Israel, and could survive in the wilderness and do other awesome stuff. Her mother is English and is a book translator.
    • They live in Brooklyn—Alma and Bird, with their mother.
    • Alma's mother still mourns her husband's death. Alma misses him too, but really wants her mother to find a new boyfriend already.
    • Inspired by her father's wilderness survival skills, Alma begins to keep a notebook called How to Survive in the Wild.
    • Bird feels sad that he never really knew their father, so he asks Alma questions about him. Alma makes stuff up to make their dad sound as impressive as possible, and gives him the impression she remembers him better than she really does.
    • One night, Bird tells Alma a secret: he might be one of the thirty-six holy people who, according to Jewish tradition, have the potential to be the Messiah. Well, that would look good on a resume.
    • A few months later, a letter arrives in the mail from a man named Jacob Marcus, asking Alma's mother to translate a book called The History of Love from Spanish into English.
    • The man writes about the author, "a little-known writer, Zvi Litvinoff, who escaped from Poland to Chile in 1941, and whose single published word, written in Spanish, is called The History of Love" (2.47). He offers her $100,000 to translate the book. Yes, please.
    • Alma considers writing back to Mr. Marcus herself, to tell him some amazing things about the history of the postal service, and also to mention that her mother is single. But then she decides she probably shouldn't meddle (yet).
    • Alma tells us her mother used to read passages from The History of Love to her when she was young.
    • Alma's mother agrees to do the translation, and Jacob Marcus sends them some money up front.
    • Bird falls on the roof of his Hebrew school and sprains his wrist. Then he starts selling lemonade at a lemonade stand, while building something in an empty lot nearby. He's clearly one of the busiest kids we've heard of.
    • Alma begs Bird to at least try to be normal.
    • Two months later, Alma's mother is ready to send Jacob Marcus the first installment of her translation. Alma offers to bring the package to the post office, and on the way opens it and sees the terse impersonal note her mother has included with the pages. Blah.
    • Then there's a short chapter from The History of Love, about The Age of Glass, a time when every person believed a part of his or her body was made of glass and was very worried about breaking it.
    • Alma goes home and spends hours writing a love letter from her mother to Jacob Marcus and decides that she will send that in the package instead.
  • Chapter 3: Forgive Me

    • The third chapter, unlike the first two, is in third-person narration. It tells us about Zvi Litvinoff, the author of The History of Love.
    • Most information about Zvi comes from the introduction to his book, which was written by his wife, Rosa.
    • The lovebirds met outside a café in 1951. Litvinoff was much older than her.
    • They began dating. Only after they became serious did Litvinoff begin reading her passages from the book he was writing, which would become The History of Love.
    • It was originally written in Yiddish. Rosa, devoted lady she was, helped translate it into Spanish.
    • The original Yiddish manuscript was destroyed when their house flooded.
    • Zvi Litvinoff died in 1978.
    • The History of Love was originally published in a small printing of only two thousand copies. One of these copies ended up in a bookstore in Chile.
    • One day, the bookstore owner picked it up and read a chapter called "The Age of Silence" about the time before language existed, when people just communicated through gestures. This allowed them to express themselves more freely, but there were a bunch of misunderstandings too.
    • This is why we still gesture when we speak today (so now you know).
    • The bookstore owner placed the book in the window, where it was eventually purchased by one David Singer—Alma's father.
  • Chapter 4: A Joy Forever

    • Every day, Leo Gursky checks the mail, hoping to find a response from his son regarding the manuscript he sent. Nothing comes.
    • He decides to go for a walk and ends up in a Starbucks (we know, not hard to do in New York). He sits down next to some people and "a wave of happiness" (4.5) comes over him.
    • He calls Bruno to tell him about it. He's really, really happy.
    • A man next to him is reading a newspaper, and Leo notices it says something about his son Isaac.
    • It's his obituary. He died of Hodgkin's disease at the age of sixty.
    • Leo sits in a daze for hours and hours and one of the Starbucks employees finally asks him to leave because they're closing.
    • Leo falls asleep and has some crazy dreams.
    • When he wakes up, he looks at the obituary again and sees there will be a memorial service the next day. He decides he's going to crash it.
    • Leo goes uptown to buy a suit. He goes to a fancy men's clothing store and tries one on, but it's $1,000, so he goes to Bloomingdale's and finds one for $200 (we definitely have never seen one that cheap at Bloomie's, but that's beside the point).
    • The suit needs to be hemmed. At first the tailor says it will take two weeks, but when Leo tells him it's for his son's funeral he does it right away.
    • He takes the suit home, sits down at the kitchen table, and makes a tear in the collar.
    • Then he takes a bath and starts drinking vodka, even though he rarely drinks stuff like that. Not only that, he drinks it out straight out of the bottle. He's seriously grieving.
    • Totally wasted, Leo starts dancing around his apartment. It takes a while to get some juice into his creaky bones, but once he gets going he gets pretty crazy. He spins and laughs and cries and sings and knocks over all his furniture and passes out at dawn.
    • The next day, Leo goes to the funeral. By the time he gets there, the service is already over, but there are some people still milling about.
    • He wonders where Isaac will be buried, and starts to regret already having bought a graveyard plot. He wishes he could be buried next to his son.
    • This brings him to back to the memory of when he bought the plot, wanting something away from the road and under a tree. Those spots are way too expensive, though.
    • He notices Isaac's half-brother, Bernard, on the other side of the room. He looks just like his father—the man that Leo's beloved married.
    • That man, Mordecai, died a few years ago. Leo lights a memorial candle for Mordecai whenever he remembers. He asks, "If not me, who?" (4.52).
    • Isaac's mother, as in Leo's beloved, died five years ago too. Leo looks forward to finally being with her in the afterlife.
    • He remembers visiting her at the very end of her life, when she was dying in the hospital. He told her jokes.
    • Leo's reverie is interrupted by a man in a yellow bowtie, coming to ask Leo how he knew Isaac.
    • Isaac grabs hold of a potted plant to steady himself and says vaguely that they were related.
    • Then the plant rips out from the soil and Leo stumbles over, hitting his groin on the edge of the pot (uf) and covering the bowtied man in dirt.
    • The man in the yellow bowtie is not so psyched about this.
    • Bernard (again, Isaac's half-brother) comes over to speak to Leo, too. Leo has the brilliant idea of pretending he doesn't speak English and whispers hoarsely to Bernard in Yiddish. Bernard doesn't understand, so he continues jabbering on, complaining about the man in the yellow bowtie, and Bernard eventually thanks him for coming and starts to walk away.
    • And as he does so, Leo involuntarily says "Slonim" (4.78)—that is, the name of the town where he and his beloved (Bernard and Isaac's mother) grew up.
    • Bernard throws out a few stories his mother used to tell him about Slonim, and Leo reminisces inwardly.
    • Fifteen minutes later, Leo finds himself in a stretch limo, heading to the after-party at Bernard's house on Long Island (sweet).
    • At the party, Leo listens to people talking about his son, the son he never met, knowing that they were close with him. He finds it all incredibly painful.
    • To get away from them, he wanders the house and ends up in a guest bedroom. He lies down on the bed.
    • Bernard walks in and asks if Leo is feeling okay.
    • Leo turns to look at him and spots a photo framed on the wall.
    • Bernard tells him that it's of his mother.
    • Leo inwardly recalls the exact circumstances when that photo was taken. He and Bernard's mother discussed how they should be arranged for it: standing next to a tree, or in the traditional pose for a married couple, or holding hands.
    • (She said they couldn't hold hands because then people would know their secret. And it's better if it's a secret, because then no one can take it away from them.)
    • Bernard doesn't realize that Leo is the other person in the photo.
    • He says Isaac found it in a drawer in her apartment, with a bunch of letters written in Yiddish. Isaac suspected they were from someone she was in love with in Slonim.
    • Keep in mind, Bernard doesn't think Leo can understand anything he's saying, because he thinks the old man can't speak English.
    • Leo recalls some more unbelievably romantic memories and starts to cry. The tears fall onto the picture frame.
    • Bernard leaves him alone in the room. Leo takes the photo, sticks it down his pants, and leaves. (One of the limousines takes him home, likely not knowing that Leo's smuggling stolen goods.)
    • When he gets back to his apartment, he thinks he's been robbed—all of his furniture has been overturned and the whole place is covered in white powder.
    • But all his pots and pans have been used too, so for a moment he thinks the thieves stopped to make themselves a meal while they were at it.
    • Then he notices, sitting next to his typewriter, a big sunken cake with yellow icing. In pink letters it reads, "LOOK WHO BAKED A CAKE" (4.111). There's also a note: "WAITED ALL DAY" (4.111).
    • Leo smiles and starts fixing the furniture. He remembers now that he himself knocked everything over when he was crazy drunk dancing the night before.
    • He takes the picture frame out of his pants and puts it on the nightstand.
    • He walks upstairs to Bruno's apartment and finds a note on his door: "DO NOT DISTURB. GIFT UNDER YOUR PILLOW" (4.112).
    • He walks back downstairs, noting that Bruno left a thick dusting of flour over the entire floor and then made a snow angel in it.
    • Leo lifts his pillow and underneath it finds a large brown envelope with his name written on it in unfamiliar handwriting.
    • There's a stack of printed pages inside. He starts to read them. He realizes he knows them from somewhere, but can't remember where. Then it hits him: he wrote them.
  • Chapter 5: My Father's Tent

    • Alma Singer is thinking about her dad. He didn't like to write letters. Also, according to her mother, he liked to challenge authority and couldn't sit still.
    • Alma remembers thinking when she was younger that being an "engineer" meant her dad drove a train, until her father eventually corrected her.
    • When Alma was eleven, her Hebrew school arranged for her to have a pen pal. Her pen pal was from Russia and her name was Tatiana. Her English wasn't so great. The last time Alma heard from Tatiana, she told Alma a boy from her class was moving to New York.
    • Alma tells her mother about her new Russian friend, Misha, who lives nearby in Brighton Beach (a section of Brooklyn where lots of Russians live).
    • Her mother is surprised to hear that this boy is "just Russian," and illustrates to Alma all the different ways to describe Alma's ethnic heritage, depending on where she starts.
    • For example, "one-quarter Russian, one-quarter Hungarian, one-quarter Polish, and one-quarter German," or "half Polish, one-quarter Hungarian, and one-quarter English," or "half English and half Israeli." These are all laid out quite awesomely in a diagram on the page (5.4).
    • Alma screams out, "I'M AMERICAN!" and Bird mutters, "No, you're not. You're Jewish" (5.5).
    • Alma tells the story of her Bat Mitzvah, for which they flew to Jerusalem so her father's parents could attend. They go to the Wailing Wall and a rabbi tells Alma she can leave a prayer for God in the cracks of the wall. But Alma doesn't believe in God, so she writes a note to her father instead.
    • Alma tells us some more about Misha, with whom she started exchanging letters when she was twelve years old (two years before our story begins).
    • Two years later, the two friends are hanging out in person. She tells him about The History of Love and her fake love letter to Jacob Marcus.
    • A few weeks after she sends that letter (it's now the end of July), she gets a reply.
    • Jacob Marcus describes his life, which sounds tremendously lonely and not a little bit strange. But he sounds very dignified. He really likes the translation so far.
    • Some kids prank call Alma's house, asking for the Messiah. Alma tells them to leave her brother alone.
    • She reads Jacob Marcus's letter one hundred times, looking for clues about his life, trying to sort out why The History of Love is so important to him.
    • She comes up with a list of clues based on random things he mentions in his letter. But they don't help. She decides the only thing that can help her is the book itself.
    • Alma steals a copy of what her mother has translated so far and reads it under the covers by flashlight. There's a chapter called "The Birth of Feeling" about the moment in human history when feelings—like surprise, resentment, and desire—were invented.
    • Reading the book makes her think about her father, which in turn makes her wonder what made him give her mother the book only two weeks after they met (and knowing full well she couldn't read Spanish).
    • She has the brilliant idea of looking at the inside cover of her mother's copy, and sees that her father had inscribed it, "For Charlotte, my Alma." (Remember, all the girls in the book are named Alma.) She decides Litvinoff must have been in love with a woman named Alma and adds her name to the list of clues.
    • She runs downstairs to ask her mother if she knows what Alma's last name was.
    • Even though there are lots of Almas in the book, there is one time that he mentions a surname, and it's weird because it's the only name in the book that isn't in Spanish. The surname is Mereminski.
    • The next day, Alma starts looking for Alma Mereminski.
  • Chapter 6: The Trouble with Thinking

    • Years later, Zvi Litvinoff is really sick. He has a terrible cough and is probably dying.
    • There's something he really wants to tell his wife, but the longer he waits, the more difficult it is to tell her.
    • When Litvinoff was younger, he had a friend. The last time he saw the friend was the day he left Poland. He thinks about this friend, and their parting, every day.
    • When Litvinoff can't sleep, he reads from The History of Love, in particular the chapter called "The Age of String."
    • It talks about how people used to use string to help them communicate—guiding their words to their proper destinations. It mentions a man "who held the end of a string that was unraveled across the ocean by a girl who left for America" (6.6). This practice eventually led to the invention of the telephone.
    • Litvinoff remembers that he was holding the manuscript to The History of Love, written in Yiddish, the day he last saw his friend.
    • At the time, Litvinoff was a journalist. He wrote obituaries and hung out at local cafés. Flashback time:
    • One night he hears a familiar voice, and it's his (still unnamed) friend. From that night on, they hang out every night.
    • A few months later, the writer Isaac Babel dies and it falls to Litvinoff to write his obituary. He does a great job and is totally psyched.
    • A few weeks after that, his friend doesn't show up at their favorite café. Litvinoff gets worried, so he goes to his apartment to check on him. The friend's indeed sick in bed, so Litvinoff makes him a cup of tea.
    • His friend falls asleep and Litvinoff notices the desk is covered in scattered pages. He notices that the top of one reads "THE DEATH OF ISAAC BABEL." He reads it, and is overwhelmed by how amazing it is. First it makes him angry (because it totally overshadows his own obituary) and for a second he wants to kick his friend's butt.
    • But then he feels really sad, because he realizes once and for all how different he and his friend are.
    • Finally, it makes him feel like "an average man."
    • He starts to cry a little bit, then notices there are other similar works on the desk too: "FRANZ KAFKA IS DEAD" and "THE DEATH OF TOLSTOY." Basically, he writes these obituaries for great writers.
    • So, it's a big surprise (for him and for us) when, beneath all the others, he finds one called "THE DEATH OF LEOPOLD GURSKY." He reads it over and over again, and although it's technically about death, he feels like this one in particular is life-affirming.
    • He stays up all night watching over his friend. By morning, his friend looks much healthier. He folds the piece of paper in half and puts it in his breast pocket. For the rest of his life, he kept that piece of paper there in his pocket.
    • That's the end of the flashback and, hey, the end of the chapter.
  • Chapter 7: Until the Writing Hand Hurts

    • Leo Gursky has been reading the manuscript he found under his pillow—which he apparently wrote a long time ago—and now he's totally disoriented. He drops all the pages on the floor. He gets a paper cut picking them back up.
    • He reads the rest of the manuscript. All the Polish names have been changed into Spanish names—weird.
    • He washes the dirty pots and pans and then studies the package for clues as to who might have sent it. No note, no nothing—again, it's weird.
    • He wonders how in the world the book survived, since the only copy he knows of was destroyed in a flood.
    • There were some sections he had sent to the girl in America, but that was about it. "And here in my hands was almost the whole book! Somehow in English! With Spanish names! It boggles the mind" (7.15).
    • Leo feels like he should be able to crack this mystery since, you know, he is a locksmith.
    • Suddenly it occurs to him that maybe somehow he's a super-world famous writer without knowing it. Could it be? He goes out to the library to find out.
    • Yeah, he isn't.
    • He recalls how, after his heart attack, he thought about death constantly. This reminds him of the first time he understood what it means to die, when he was nine and his uncle passed away.
    • He was briefly left alone in a room with his uncle's body, and from then on was terrified that his parents were going to die.
    • But then he met his beloved, immediately stopped thinking about death, and instead thought about her all the time (great substitute).
    • Finally, he tells us his beloved's name: Alma (!).
    • After a while, he leaves the library and feels incredibly lonely.
    • He remembers a one-night stand he once had with a woman who had locked herself out of her apartment.
    • A few months later, she asks him to make a copy of her key, because she's in a relationship.
    • Leo secretly makes two copies and keeps one for himself, carrying it around in his pocket just "to pretend" (7.64).
    • Shortly thereafter, it occurs to him that, as a locksmith, he can break into any building in New York.
    • So he breaks into Carnegie Hall. Standing on stage, he imagines Alma standing next to him, playing her violin.
    • Back in the present, he walks home from the library in the rain. Bruno is in his apartment; the pages of his book are again strewn all over the floor. Bruno gives him a short critique of his work. Leo realizes he's speaking in Yiddish.
    • Bruno admits he too has been writing a book about Alma, and has always been in love with her.
    • Bruno reminds him about the book Leo sent his son in the mail, and encourages him to go get it back.
  • Chapter 8: Flood

    • Alma Singer's uncle Julian comes to stay with them in Brooklyn. Bird sleeps in her bed, and she sleeps on the floor.
    • She starts searching for Alma Mereminski.
    • Misha wonders why she's so sure Alma Mereminski is a real person (good point).
    • Things start to get awkward between Alma and Misha because they like each other and don't know how to act anymore: flirting, fighting, back to flirting. It must be hormones.
    • Misha keeps doubting, this time wondering how Alma is so sure that, even if the other Alma left Poland for America, she would have come to New York.
    • Well, Alma doesn't have a good answer.
    • They're lying in Misha's bedroom in his parents' house. His parents are arguing outside the door. Misha kisses her. It doesn't go well—they end up crashing faces, licking each other's lips, and other embarrassing teenage stuff.
    • Misha's parents go on fighting.
    • Alma sits up and blurts out that she likes someone else, even though it isn't true, and she immediately regrets it.
    • They don't speak for weeks.
    • Alma tries to work on a second letter to Jacob Marcus, but can't write anything she's happy with.
    • It occurs to her that Alma Mereminski might be dead, in which case there must at least be a record of her passing somewhere.
    • It starts raining. Bird comes into the house and says mysteriously, "It's starting" (8.38).
    • Uncle Julian asks Alma if she's seen Bird's clubhouse, which is apparently really impressive.
    • She goes to the New York City Municipal Archives, which keeps records of births and deaths. There's nothing there, but it turns out that they only house records before 1948. So she goes to the New York City Department of Health, Division of Vital Records.
    • Alma thinks that marrying her father was the worst mistake her mother ever made.
    • It's still raining outside. Alma walks past the vacant lot where Bird has been building... something. It's six feet tall. There's a pole in the middle, like a flagpole, but with no flag.
    • Alma calls Misha from a payphone and asks if he wants to hang out that night. He has a date. Alma is mad jealous, yo.
    • She spends two hours with the death records, but finds nothing.
    • Uncle Julian wakes up Alma in the middle of the night to ask: 1) how old she is, and 2) what she wants to be when she grows up. The answers: she's almost fifteen, and she says she wants to be a painter (because she knows that's what Julian wants to hear).
    • Alma lies awake thinking about Misha and his date, and her parents, and wonders why Zvi Litvinoff moved to Chile and married Rosa instead of marrying Alma. A lot's on her mind.
    • Then she has a little epiphany: Alma must have gotten married, and that's why she couldn't find her in the death records—she would have changed her name.
    • She turns on her flashlight to write in her notebook and spots something stuck in between the bed frame and the wall. It has the Hebrew word for God on the outside, and next to that it says "PRIVATE." It's Bird's journal—score. She opens it and starts to read.
    • The first entry she reads is from April, right after Alma begged Bird to try to act normal. It's his first day being normal, he writes, meaning that he hasn't climbed on top of any buildings, or written God's name anywhere, or quoted the Torah.
    • It also includes not mentioning that he might be the Messiah.
    • He falls off a ladder but doesn't get hurt, which he thinks is because God won't let him be harmed, because he's a lamed vovnik (i.e., one of the "thirty-sixers" mentioned earlier).
    • Alma skips ahead in the journal and reads from June. Bird writes that he has made almost $300 selling lemonade, but still needs another $400. He doesn't say what for.
    • He mentions that he's building something very special, but he's worried that it might start raining before he's finished. He needs lots of Styrofoam because this thing he's building has to be able to float.
    • The reason he's building this thing is because there's going to be a flood.
    • Alma looks up from the book and notices that it's still raining.
  • Chapter 9: Here We Are Together

    • Again it's Zvi Litvinoff's last day in Poland. He walks home after saying good-bye to his friend and removes from his coat the brown paper package his friend had given him. On the outside is written, "To be held for Leopold Gursky until you see him again" (9.1).
    • He checks his pockets for his passport and tickets.
    • Zvi travels from Poland to Spain, from Spain to Lisbon, and then from Lisbon to Chile, where one of his father's cousins lives. He does some random stuff before finding a job working in a pharmacy. Finally he's able to afford a place of his own and, unpacking his stuff, he finds the brown paper package his friend had given him.
    • He saves up money to bring his sister Miriam over from Poland.
    • Zvi buys a shortwave radio and listens to the news from Europe, as the Nazis invade Poland.
    • He prefers to be alone. When people invite him over to their house he makes an excuse. One time he lies and says he has some writing to finish. This starts the rumor that he is a writer.
    • Eventually, the pharmacy closes and Litvinoff is hired as a teacher at a Jewish day school.
    • World War II ends, and over time he learns that everyone in his family is now dead.
    • Now thirty-two years old, he meets Rosa at a café. They begin dating. The night after their first kiss, Litvinoff experiences terrible self-doubts—that he's not good enough for her, etc.
    • He takes the bus home, takes off his clothes, and sits naked in the dark.
    • He mumbles the words on the piece of paper he keeps folded in his breast pocket. The words have almost become an incantation for him over the years.
    • Later that night, Litvinoff takes the brown paper package from inside his suitcase. He opens it, places the contents onto his desk, and burns the envelope.
  • Chapter 10: Die Laughing

    • Leo and Bruno go to Grand Central Terminal, but are late to catch a train.
    • They have to run to the track. Bruno intentionally misses it, so Leo has to go alone.
    • He's taking the train to Isaac's house to try to get his book back.
    • On the train, he recalls the many times he fantasized about visiting his son.
    • He had always tried to keep up with things his son might be interested in, like baseball (the Dodgers) and rock and roll (The Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones).
    • When Isaac was a boy in school, Leo would stand across the street and watch him leave at the end of the day.
    • One time a letter arrived in the mail from Isaac's mother Alma. She wrote that she knows Leo watches her son, and that she waits for the day Isaac will ask for the truth. Also, she sees Leo in his eyes. Also, basically she's still in love with him—sigh.
    • The train arrives, and he takes a taxi to Isaac's house. He knocks and rings the bell, but no one answers. So he walks around back, picks the lock, and goes inside.
    • He puts on his son's shoes and his coat. He feels both very close to his son and very far away.
    • Leo walks around. He throws away some rotten food, reads a postcard taped to the window, and washes a dirty dish.
    • He continues looking for his book. He just wants proof that Isaac read it.
    • It isn't there.
  • Chapter 11: If Not, Not

    • Alma wakes up in her sleeping bag on the floor of her bedroom. Her bed is empty, and the sheets are stripped.
    • It has stopped raining.
    • It's the end of August, by the way.
    • She goes into the bathroom and takes off all her clothes, stands on the toilet, and looks in the mirror. She thinks maybe she should get a nose ring. (We don't think she needed to take off all her clothes to figure out that one.)
    • She goes downstairs to the kitchen. Her mom asks if she and Misha are in a fight.
    • Alma basically ignores her mom. Changing the subject, she asks how old the Alma is in The History of Love. Her mom says that there are lots of Almas in the book. As well, the sense of time is very mixed up. When it starts there's an Alma who is ten, and when it ends that same Alma is twenty. And there are no other Almas older than twenty.
    • Alma figures this means that Litvinoff must have fallen in love with the other Alma when they were ten, and she probably left for America when she was twenty.
    • Alma goes back to the New York City Municipal Archives to look for marriage records, but they're not kept there, so they send her to the City Clerk's Office.
    • And… she finds her: "Married in Brooklyn in 1942 to Mordecai Moritz, wedding performed by a Rabbi Greenberg" (11.14).
    • She finds a payphone, calls Information, and gets the address for a Mordecai Moritz in Manhattan. Woo-hoo!
    • On the way there, Alma daydreams about knocking on the door and having Alma Mereminski answer. She imagines her with white hair, and having a parrot that squawks. Alma tells her the story of her father finding The History of Love in the bookstore in Chile, and about her brother Bird, etc.
    • She misses her stop and has to walk back ten blocks. Now she thinks more realistically about the situation. She considers that maybe Alma Mereminski doesn't want to be found. Or maybe she's never even heard of the book. Or…
    • But when she gets to the apartment building, she asks for Mrs. Alma Moritz. The doorman says that she died five years ago.
    • Just in case, she asks the doorman if he's ever heard of The History of Love. He says that, if she wants to talk about books, she should talk to Mrs. Moritz's son Isaac, who is a famous writer. (This is a few weeks before he dies.)
    • Alma's never heard of the guy.
    • She and Uncle Julian go out for dinner and talk about relationships.
    • She gets home and her mother is planting flowers, celebrating the fact that she sent some more chapters off earlier in the day.
    • Alma freaks out, having been unable to insert a new love letter to Jacob Marcus inside.
    • She rummages through her mother's garbage, hoping to find some evidence of what she had sent, but finds nothing.
    • She wants to give up. She remembers that the original reason she started her adventure was to find someone her mother might fall in love with. Now she sees that's just never going to happen.
    • That night, lying in her sleeping bag, she reads some of The History of Love, trying to "find out something true about [her] father, and the things he might have told [her] if he hadn't died" (11.29).
    • The next morning, she wakes up and Bird has wet the bed.
    • A few days later, it's September. Uncle Julian leaves and, as a parting gift, he signs Alma up for a drawing class.
  • Chapter 12: The Last Page

    • Zvi Litvinoff begins copying his friend's book. He doesn't do it maliciously at all, just sort of absentmindedly.
    • He considers changing the name "Alma" to "Rosa," but finds himself unable to do so.
    • He remembers once seeing Alma and Leo kiss beneath the tree, how it made him feel "that everything that belonged to him was worthless."
    • He copies Chapter 18, entitled "Love Among the Angels," in which it's written that angels do not dream. Nor can they smell, apparently.
    • After copying one chapter every night, he finally finishes copying the whole thing. He takes his friend's manuscript and throws the pages into the trash under the sink. Then he takes them out and throws them in the garbage cans outside.
    • But he's still worried someone might find them, so he goes and fishes them out of the trash and sticks them under the bed.
    • By now they smell like garbage, so he buries them in the garden.
    • But, every time he looks at his landlady's flowers, he's wracked by guilt. So the next spring, he digs them up, sticks them in a drawer of his desk, and hides the key.
    • Fast-forward some years: the night before Litvinoff dies, he tells Rosa that there's something he wants to tell her. But he has a horrible coughing fit and can't get the words out. Finally he tells her, "I wanted you to love me" (12.23).
    • We rewind again, to the time when The History of Love was accepted by a small Chilean publishing house. The editor suggested some changes. Litvinoff tried to comply, but then he also insisted on attaching a new ending: "Chapter 39: The Death of Leopold Gursky."
    • Rosa, we are then told, was very good at keeping secrets. One thing she never told anyone was that, a few months after The History of Love was published, a letter came in the mail, addressed to Litvinoff.
    • She assumed that it was a belated rejection letter, so she opened it up. It was from Leo Gursky, written in Yiddish. He said he was alive in New York (not dead in Poland), and now he wanted the book he asked Litvinoff to hold onto all those years before.
    • Rosa realizes the truth. She remembers that she once opened Litvinoff's secret drawer and found the old Yiddish manuscript, but she decided not to ask about it.
    • She tears the letter into pieces and flushes it down the toilet. Then she writes back Leo, telling him that her husband is too ill to reply, and that his book was destroyed when their house was flooded.
    • The next day, she arranges for her and her husband to go on a picnic in the mountains. Just before leaving, she pretends to have forgotten something inside, unlocks the drawer, takes out the pages, turns on the tap in the sink, and walks out the door.
  • Chapter 13: My Life Underwater

    • After Uncle Julian leaves, Alma's mother gets very depressed. The only phone calls she answers are from Julian.
    • Alma attends her first two drawing classes. They make her feel uncomfortable.
    • It rains continuously for a couple of weeks. Bird keeps building his... whatever it is he's building. Alma wants to help him, but doesn't know how.
    • Then it's her fifteenth birthday—it's September now (that is, we're still a little ahead of Leo's timeline).
    • Bird gives her an orange life jacket as a present.
    • Alma asks her mother if she's ever heard of the writer Isaac Moritz. She has, but she's never read any of his books.
    • Alma goes to the library and takes one of his books off the shelf. She starts to read the first page. It begins, "Jacob Marcus stood waiting for his mother at the corner of Broadway and Graham" (13.13).
    • She reads it again, and again, and again.
    • She realizes the man who asked her mother to translate the book is Alma Mereminski's son.
    • Alma goes home and calls Misha, but he doesn't call her back. She misses him.
    • Alma wakes up in the middle of the night. It's raining. She wakes up Bird and tells him that he has to stop talking about God. He has to try to be normal, or else he's never going to have any friends.
    • Bird points out that Alma doesn't have any friends either.
    • Alma protests, but then realizes he's right.
    • The next day, Alma asks her neighbor (and classmate) Herman Cooper to drive her to Isaac Moritz's house in Connecticut.
    • She tells him the whole story about The History of Love.
    • They get to the house but there's no one there. She leaves a note on the door with her telephone number.
    • A week and a half later, Isaac Moritz's obituary is in the paper.
    • Alma falls into her mother's arms crying, saying that she needs her to not be sad.
  • Chapter 14: One Nice Thing

    • This chapter is told from Bird's perspective, courtesy of entries in his journal.
    • He writes that he went to the airport to buy a ticket to Israel. He had been saving up money for it (selling lemonade, but also occasionally stealing from his mother's wallet), but it's going to cost more than he expected.
    • He writes a little about his sessions with the therapist he's been sent to, Dr. Vishnubakat.
    • The fire department takes down his ark, saying that it's a fire hazard.
    • Anyway, it has stopped raining. He realizes he wasn't supposed to tell anyone he's a lamed vovnik and feels that he has disappointed his friend Mr. Goldstein (the janitor) and also disappointed God.
    • Misha calls their house and Bird picks up. He asks Bird if Alma ever found the person she was looking for, and Bird doesn't know what he's talking about. Misha asks him not to tell Alma he called.
    • Mr. Goldstein gets sick and has to go to the hospital.
    • Bird notices that, when he was sure he was a lamed vovnik, he was also sure God could hear his prayers, but now he's not so certain.
    • He has the idea that maybe if he does something to help someone else, then Mr. Goldstein will get better again. He immediately knows whom he can help.
  • Chapter 15: The Last Time I Saw You

    • Bruno wakes up Leo, saying that he's been written about in a magazine.
    • He shows him the magazine—the only one Leo subscribes to, because Isaac often published in it—and it's a story called "Words For Everything." It's attributed to Isaac Moritz, and the main character is named Leo Gursky. Huh?
    • He calls the magazine and asks how they got the story. They say it's from the final novel by Isaac Moritz and Leo says, "I assure you it isn't" (15.32).
    • Leo hangs up and tries to unravel whether the discovery of the book means that Isaac read it—because if he read it, then he'd know the truth about Leo being his real father.
    • He finds great joy in imagining that there was a time when they were each aware of the other's existence.
    • He walks downstairs to check the mail and finds a small typewritten letter. It reads, "Dear Leopold Gursky, Please meet me at 4:00 on Saturday on the benches in front of the entrance to the Central Park Zoo. I think you know who I am. Sincerely yours, Alma" (15.73-76).
    • Leo's heart is pounding in his chest. He thinks—with the arrival of his angel, Alma—that he's going to die.
    • He bangs on the radiator, hoping Bruno will hear him. There's no answer.
  • Chapter 16: Would a Lamed Vovnik Do This?

    • Bird sneaks into Alma's room and steals her notebook, How to Survive in the Wild.
    • Then he pretends to be sick so he can stay home from school and spend all day finding out whom Alma is searching for.
    • Most of the information in the book is actually about how to survive in the wild.
    • Then he sees the name Alma Mereminski.
    • At first he assumes this means Alma wants to marry someone named Mr. Mereminski. But then he sees where it says "ALMA MEREMINSKI = ALMA MORITZ" (16.3). So he thinks maybe his sister's also in love with someone named Mr. Moritz.
    • He sees where Alma has written about how much she misses Misha, but it's in code so he doesn't understand it.
    • The only person Bird misses is his dad. He is jealous of how well Alma knew their father (though, as the reader knows, she didn't know him nearly as well as Bird thinks she did).
    • And then he sees in the notebook that she's written, "I FEEL SAD BECAUSE I NEVER REALLY KNEW DAD" (16.6).
    • But Bird is still convinced Alma definitely knew their father, David Singer, well. So he thinks maybe this means that their mother had Alma with another man, before marrying David Singer, and that that man is either named Moritz or Mereminski.
    • He deduces that she's trying to find her real dad.
    • He pretends to be sick the next day, too. This is a lot to take on.
    • He wonders if maybe it was Alma's dad who gave their mom The History of Love and not his own dad. He thinks that maybe the book will tell him who this Alma's dad was.
    • He also thinks that maybe this mysterious man was a spy, and that's why he has two last names (naturally).
    • He goes into the kitchen to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and the phone rings.
    • It's Bernard Moritz (Isaac's brother, remember), asking for Alma.
    • Bird is surer than ever that God can hear his prayers.
    • Bernard is calling about the note Alma left on his brother's door. Isaac was in the hospital at the time, and he has since died.
    • Bernard says that, before Isaac died, his brother told him about some letters he had found in their mother's drawer, which suggested that Mordecai Moritz was not his (Isaac's) real father, and that this other man had written a book called The History of Love.
    • Alma had mentioned the book in her note, so he thought he'd call and let her know his brother had died.
    • Bird, having always been told that Zvi Litvinoff was the author of The History of Love, asks Bernard if that's who Isaac thought his dad was.
    • And Bernard says no, he thought it was a guy called Leopold Gursky. Bird asks him to spell it, and he writes it down. Then he asks what made his brother think this Gursky guy was his father. Bernard says that it was because he included parts of the book inside his letters.
    • Bird is really excited to be solving the mystery, since helping people might mean that he really is a lamed vovnik—excellent.
    • He is now convinced that Alma's father gave their mother the book because he wrote it. That is, he thinks Leo Gursky is Alma's father.
    • Then he has an idea. He looks up Leo Gursky's name in the phonebook and finds it.
    • He prints out a copy of his mother's translation of The History of Love, puts it in a brown envelope, and writes "FOR LEOPOLD GURSKY" on the front (16.33).
    • He takes $100 out of his lemonade money, puts the envelope under his jacket, and walks to Leo Gursky's house.
    • Then the book switches back and forth really quickly between Alma and Leo:
    • Alma receives a letter just like Leo's, asking her to meet him on Saturday on the benches in front of the Central Park Zoo. It's signed "Leopold Gursky," but of course both of these letters were written by Bird.
    • Leo waits on the park bench for a long time. He's sort of delirious, and really believes he's about to die. He says he feels like the oldest thing in the world.
    • Alma wonders where the letter came from, since she doesn't know anyone named Leopold Gursky.
    • Leo decides he's going to sit on that bench and wait, forever if necessary.
    • Alma thinks the letter might have been written by Misha. She really misses him.
    • Leo sits on the park bench and thinks about his life. Despite all that he has suffered, he still feels positive.
    • Or maybe, Alma thinks, the letter was from the guy at the Municipal Archives, calling to tell her something new about Alma Mereminski. Or maybe he wants to ask her out on a date. There are just so many options.
    • Leo remembers living in the forest during the Holocaust. He ate worms and drank water from puddles. He snuck into people's cellars and ate raw rats. He did it just to stay alive, and the reason he wanted to stay alive was for his beloved Alma.
    • Alma remembers there was an old Jewish man working at the City Clerk's Office. Maybe that guy's name is Leopold Gursky.
    • Leo remembers the first time he realized he was able to see something that wasn't really there. He was ten years old and felt separate from the other boys. He saw an elephant standing in the middle of the town square. He knew it wasn't really there, but he wanted to believe in it. That made the elephant seem real.
    • Alma wonders if maybe the doorman wrote her the letter—maybe he had some information about The History of Love.
    • Over time, Leo began imagining more and more things that weren't really there. He used to amuse his Alma by telling her about it.
    • Alma then thinks that maybe Isaac had written the letter himself, sending it before he died. Maybe Leopold Gursky is the name of another one of his characters—in which case, when she goes to the park, the bench will be empty.
    • Leo is really convinced that he's going to die on this park bench. In order to make it easy for Death to find him, he pins an index card with his name on it to his jacket. He thinks about human beings' capacity for change.
    • Alma arrives at the park. There are lots of people on benches, and she has no idea how to know which one is Leopold Gursky. She sits down on a bench.
    • Leo remembers a time he was hiding in a potato cellar when the SS (Schutzstaffel) came. One of them was telling the other about suspecting his wife of being unfaithful. He became so distraught that he was no longer hungry, and just because of that they didn't find him.
    • Alma sits on the bench for twenty minutes, then twenty minutes more. The only people left in the park are an old man and herself. She decides Leopold Gursky is not going to arrive after all and gets up to leave. She passes the old man, and notices the index card pinned on his chest.
    • Leo feels gratitude for the SS soldier's wife. He marvels that she has no idea how her decision to kiss a stranger ended up saving his life.
    • Alma stands in front of Leo. He barely notices her. She says, "My name is Alma" (16.76).
    • Leo is not quite in his right mind. He thinks it's the angel of his beloved Alma.
    • Alma says, "I was named after every girl in a book called The History of Love" (16.79).
    • Leo says, "I wrote that book" (16.80).
    • Alma says she's serious—it's a real book, written by Zvi Litvinoff, in Spanish, etc. She gives a brief summary of that part of the story.
    • Leo starts laughing, still thinking that she's some sort of apparition in his mind. He accuses her of loving Zvi, and him, and Bruno.
    • But then he sort of snaps out of it, realizing that Alma might actually be a real girl. So he calls out to a man walking by, asking whether there's really a girl sitting next to him. The guy says there is.
    • Alma asks who Bruno is. Leo admits that he doesn't really exist. He was a friend of his who died in 1941, who he's made into a character in his waking life ever since, to have someone to talk to.
    • Then he tells her he had a son who didn't know he existed, named Isaac.
    • Alma asks if he was ever in love with a girl named Alma Mereminski. Leo taps her arm twice, meaning "Yes." She asks if that Alma left for America. "Yes." She asks if his son's name was Isaac Moritz. "Yes."
    • Leo feels his heart leap in his chest. Alma puts her arms around him and hugs him.
    • The book ends the same way The History of Love within The History of Love does: with "The Death of Leopold Gursky," a poem of sorts that equates writing with love and with life itself.