The pallor of death hangs over The History of Love like… well, the Grim Reaper himself. We'll deal with grief in a minute, but first we have to talk about death. Leo spends most of his days fixated on his inevitable death—fearing it, courting it, or just plain wondering about it. His memories of his loved ones often include some reference to the times of their deaths too, almost turning their status as "dead" into a characteristic, or personality trait. Even his embrace of life is a direct reaction to his constant thoughts of death. Death is everywhere in this book, but foremost in Leo's worried mind.
Questions About Death
As a child, Leo is very afraid of death. Why does meeting his Alma remove this fear?
What is the role that obituaries play in the novel? Why are Litvinoff and Gursky so consumed by them?
Leo seems to argue that his years spent in hiding have made him invisible and have robbed him of life. So why does he still think he's entitled to a death?
"The Death of Leopold Gursky" argues that people start dying the moment they are born. Do you think this is true? How would this perspective shape the way someone lives life?
Chew on This
Although Alma's relationship with death almost comes from her grief over her father's passing, by titling her journal How to Survive in the Wild she reminds us that even young folks must guard against encroaching death.
Litvinoff's illness and his last days are described in detail in order to emphasize that he himself never created anything. Death reaches him in a way it cannot reach Leo, who experiences a kind of second life after having been assumed dead in Poland for all these years.