Study Guide

The History of Love Chapter 4: A Joy Forever

By Nicole Krauss

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.