From Poland with Love

ATWIB 2013 I just spent some time traveling between NYC, Poland, and Chile with Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love. A friend saw that I had read it and said that he read it for a book group and was pretty sure he was the only male who had ever read it voluntarily. Given the title, I get this, but it’s a shame, since it’s a great book, with a very credible male protagonist. This may also change, since this is one of the short list of books that was added to the new 1001 Books list that came out in 2012. new 1001

Here is my Goodreads review:

The History of LoveThe History of Love by Nicole Krauss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My heart is weak and unreliable. When I go it will be my heart. I try to burden it as little as possible. If something is going to have an impact, I direct it elsewhere. My gut for example, or my lungs, which might seize up for a moment but have never yet failed to take another breath. When I catch a mirror and catch a glimpse of myself, or I’m at the bus stop and some kids come up behind me and say, Who smells shit?–small daily humiliations–these I take, generally speaking, in my liver. Other damages I take in other places. The pancreas I reserve for being struck by all that’s been lost. It’s true there’s so much and the organ is small. But. You would be surprised how much it can take, all I feel is a quick sharp pain and then it’s over. Sometimes I imagine my own autopsy. Disappointment in myself: right kidney. Personal failures: kiskes. I don’t mean to sound like I’ve made a science of it. It’s not that well thought out. I take it where it comes. It’s just that I notice certain patterns. When the clocks are turned back and the dark falls before I am ready, this, for reasons I can’t explain, I feel in my wrists. And when I wake up and my fingers are stiff, almost certainly I was dreaming of my childhood. The field where we used to play, the field where everything was discovered and everything was possible. (We ran so hard we thought we would spit blood: to me that is the sound of childhood, heavy breathing and shoes scraping the hard earth.) Stiffness of the fingers is the dream of childhood as it’s been returned to me at the end of my life. I have to run them under the hot water, steam clouding the mirror, outside the rustle of pigeons. Yesterday I saw a man kicking a dog and I felt it behind my eyes. I don’t know what to call this, a place before tears. The pain of forgeting: spine. The pain of remembering: spine. All the times that I have suddenly realized that my parents are dead, even now, it still surprises me, to exist in the world while that which made me has ceased to exist: my knees, it takes half a tube of Ben-Gay and a big production just to bend them. To everything a season, to every time I’ve woken only to make the mistake of believing for a moment that someone was sleeping beside me: a hemorrhoid. Loneliness: there is no organ that can take it all.

These are the words of elderly Jewish immigrant Leo Gursky, one of the two main narrators of The History of Love. The other is a teenage girl named Alma who is desperately trying to pull her mother back into the world from wherever she has gone since the death of the girl’s father from pancreatic cancer. The lives of the two will eventually cross because of a book, also called The History of Love, which is a collection of short stories all about a girl named Alma. The book, written in Spanish, was given by Alma’s father to her mother soon after they met, and is the source of her name. When her mother is asked by a mysterious correspondent to translate the book to English, Alma begins to research the other Alma, believing that she must be a real person.

This is a story of love, of family, of friendship, of tremendous loss, of Jewish identity. The characters are delightful and quirky, the relationships poignant. It is a quick and rewarding read, and deserves its place on the latest 1001 Books list.

View all my reviews

And here is the progress report:

Around the World (goal: 52 total including at least 6 in each of 6 different regions) 10
Asia/Mideast: 3 (Israel, China, Afghanistan)
Africa: 1 (Madagascar)
Europe: 3 (England/UK, Monaco, Poland)
Caribbean/Central America/North America: 2 (US, Cuba)
South America:
Extra: 1 (Scotland)

Around the US (goal: 50 states, DC, and PR): 4 (CA, MS, NY, RI)

1001 Books (goal 52): 6

A to Z challenge (must be completed in order–26 author last names A to Z then 26 titles A to Z–strategy is all!): 8
Authors: Auster, Beinart, Chandler, Donovan, Eugenides, Faulkner, Grau, Hosseini


About Beth Parks Aronson

I am Associate Professor of Psychology at Lamar University. Previously, I was a psychologist in private practice in Jenkintown, PA where I specialized in anxiety disorders and working with people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. I am a little addicted to good literature. Ok, a lot addicted.
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