“One thing that struck me most about life, is the capacity for change. One day you’re a person, and the next day they tell you you’re a dog. At first it is hard to bear, but after a while you learn not to look at it as a loss. There’s even a moment when it becomes exhilarating to realize how little needs to stay the same for you to continue the effort they call, for lack of a better word, being human” – Leo Gursky
This has been one of the best books I’ve read this year. Here are my qualifiers of that makes a good book for me:
- It makes you stay up late at night, or ignore important chores so that you can read more and finish it sooner
- The book teaches you something profound
- The book makes you laugh
- The book makes you cry
- You make new fictional friends from the book
- The story or characters remind you of yourself or someone you know closely
The History of Love checks all of the above boxes, and I am so thankful to my Goodreads book club members to introduce me to this book.
This is a story that demands to be paid attention to, from its readers. You might decide to skim or fast read some passages or sections of the book, but you really have to be careful about which sections you skim, or else you will end up missing on some really good plot elements. The author has cleverly intertwined fact and fiction, reality and dreams, living people and fictional characters in this heart tugging tale of love.
At the heart of the story is Leo Gursky, a man who is nearly at the end of his long life, who has lived against all odds and despite all of his losses. We know two things – that Leo likes to write and his writing is good and that he has always loved one woman all his life – Alma. Leo is a holocaust refugee from Poland and lives in America at present. He is old and lonely in a heart breaking sort of way, but it is his strange sense of self deprecating humour, that tugged at my heart strings the most.
Then there is fifteen-year-old Alma, who is named after the character from the book called ‘The History of Love’, by her parents. Her father had presented the book to her mother when they were courting and it had remained ‘their book’, likes couples today have ‘their song’. But she loses her father at a young age, and this loss leaves her mother in the sort of grief that is mixed with loneliness and denial. Alma also has a younger brother, who is called ‘Bird’, who has his own eccentricities. All Alma wants is for her mother not to be sad and for her brother to be normal.
And then there is Zvi Litvinoff, the famous Polish author, who has written The History of Love in Spanish, many years ago. But, there’s a story to that as well. From Zvi, we learn that he has found love, but at the cost of something terrible – at least that’s what he feels.
Alma then sets out on a quest, and this is the story of how her quest and Leo’s remaining days of life unfold. I don’t want to say too much, because I am brimming with emotion right now, and afraid that I will divulge something important to readers who haven’t read this gem of a book yet. Do give it a try and let me know if this story made you tear up and smile at the same time, towards the end.