Study Guide

The History of Love Chapter 2: My Mother's Sadness

By Nicole Krauss

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.