Monday, 11 January 2010
The Sunday Read: The History of Love
The best single line of this book is undoubtedly the last - "He fell in love. It was his life". And, I suppose, that sums up the novel far better than I ever can in the following words here.
"The History of Love", as you might imagine, deals with love. Love between parent and child, brother and sister, friends and lovers. It was knowing this that made me pick up the book (what can I say, I'm an old romantic!), but what I wasn't prepared for was how wonderfully it was written. A really engrossing read, it's one of those books that you don't dare read on the train to work because you'll miss your stop, one of those books that once you've started, you just can't put down.
The novel centres around two characters, at either end of life and society; the first, Leo Gurksy, an old man with a weak heart who spent his youth growing up in Nazi-occupied Poland, and the second, Alma Singer, a fifteen year old girl searching for a book called that meant something very special to her now widowed mother. We follow Leo Gurksy as he dwells still on the love of his life, an adolescent affair which ended when his childhood sweetheart thought him to have died in Poland. After giving birth to their son, we learn that she married an American man and emigrated to New York, leaving Leo with an all-encompassing, never diminishing void in his life; leaving him such a desperate and lonely character that he often publicly draws attention to himself in order to assure himself that he still exists. And we follow Alma Singer, the teenager who scours the world to find a special book telling a story that she knows meant so much to her parents; after all, she is named after the lead character. Although desperate to comfort her newly widowed mother by finding the book, Alma continuously comes up against brick walls: no one knows where the novel is now. As the girl follows numerous leads, she eventually converses with the author himself, in a last-ditch attempt to find the lost book: and then comes a lovely scene, whereby Leo Gurksy and Alma meet, to discuss the book that he wrote for his love all those years ago.
Beautifully written, mesmerising and one of those stories you could read over and over again and take something new away every time, The History of Love is not one to miss. The characters are so real and vivid that you almost miss them after the end of the book, and the author, while often injecting some humour into the plot, offers the reader a poignant, inspiring text, telling of endurance, loneliness, emptines, passion, romance, and a timeless true love in all its forms.
Apologies for this being late this week - I've just got back to university, my courses are starting again, and life is hectic!