I understand that saying something like, “This is the best cheese,” “This is the stinkiest basement” or “This is the most beautiful novel” is bound to induce incredulous looks from cheese lovers, people that haven’t been in my basement and novel readers. Still, “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss is, for me (needless to say, but I’ll emphasize the subjectivity), tied with a few others as the most beautiful novel I’ve read. Perhaps I can attribute some of the heft of my response to my heightened emotions at the time of reading (my cats aren’t getting any younger, my cheese had gone a touch funky, the book was recommended by someone especially tolerant of my cat and cheese obsessions). But even absent these factors, I still would have been susceptible to this novel’s immense charm. It’s dang good.
I finished the book over the course of an afternoon and evening (only putting it down so that I could savor and move past the brilliance of what I’d just read and let my eyes dry while sharing a hunk of questionable cheese with my cats). It is a propulsive, gorgeously written story led by two hilarious characters with enough tragedy in their lives (one lived through the Holocaust, the other is a fifteen year old girl) to make me literally try to press some cookies into the pages of the book so that they might make it through to their universe and offer a respite from the heartbreak they’re forced to wade through. (It didn’t work; I ate the crushed-up cookies.) Don’t worry, though. It isn’t all holocausts and dead dads and depressed moms of 15-year-old geniuses. Leopold occupies his 80s with nude modeling, emergency locksmithing and knocking over displays of KY Jelly because he dreads dying on a day when no one has noticed him. 15-year-old Alma’s portion of the narrative comes via her diary where she lists wilderness survival tactics and tells of trying to find a man to help her mother forget the father that died when Alma was seven.
Also: there’s some mystery and other awesome stuff (like a novel inside the novel), and I couldn’t put it down until after rereading the final and perfect scene. After you read this one and recuperate a bit, you should read Krauss’ “Great House.”