Tag Archives: Nicole Krauss

‘The History of Love’ by Nicole Krauss

Fourteen year old Alma is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Her mother is translating a book called “The History of Love” and Alma goes on a  quest to find the author.

Leo Gursky is an old man just trying to survive. His life has been a series of losses. Although he doesn’t know it yet, the book he wrote so long ago has survived, crossing oceans and changing lives…

Nicole Krauss often has writers as characters in her books. I’ve also read her most recent book ‘Great House‘ which was nominated for the Orange Prize (see Archive May 2011). She uses many of her own family details in her stories. ‘History of Love’ is dedicated to her grandparents. She is married to author Jonathan Safran Foer who wrote ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ (see Archive January 2012). There are some striking similarities between their books which were both published in the same year (2005). Both stories feature a young precocious child on a quest, both have old men mourning  the loss of sons, both have painful reverberations from the war in Europe, and both authors use some of the same unusual typography.

Krauss writes beautifully. Her descriptions are evocative and her characters are well portrayed right through to the soul. She captures the complexity of relationships and crafts a good story, although at times I find the thread in her books confusing and hard to follow. (When this happens a quick consultation on wikipedia is enough to keep me going; I’d rather put up with a spoiler and know what’s happening). She uses a common technique of alternating sections authored by different characters and what was helpful and enjoyable were the little icons at the start of the chapter indicating which narrator was coming up. In the end the pieces do come together.  The final words of the novel are haunting, “He was a great writer. He fell in love. It was his life.” The book begins with the same thought in the dedication, “For my grandparents, who taught me the opposite of disappearing and for Jonathan, my life.” This book is a celebration of life and love, which to quote Leo Gursky are “words for everything”.

Orange Prize for Fiction 2011

Well, I completed a personal challenge, one that was on my bucket list. I managed to read all of the books on a prize shortlist before the prize was chosen. I’m glad I did it because I don’t think I’ll do it again.  Next time I might just read the winner. This insanity was partly motivated by a great event that is coming up!

Windsor Public  Library is having an Orange Prize Event on June 8, the same day that the Orange Prize winner will be revealed.  The evening will see each of the six books promoted and as a group we will choose which one we think will win. Then we’ll see if we are right! It proves to be a great evening, mostly because it will be a huge group of people gathering who enjoy books and reading! It’ll be like a massive book club meeting and I’m really looking forward to it!

The Orange Prize is awarded to women of any nationality. Traditionally, Orange Prize winners have been more “readable” than some other prize winners. In the interest of brevity, I will comment only briefly about each of the books. You will find a synopsis of each book and a biography of each author on the website. (Orange Prize for Fiction 2011)

All of the books are well written. The order of the books here is my ranking from highest to lowest. If you have read any of them, please comment if you think it should be ranked higher or lower and why. I’d love to hear what you think!

An amazing story of survival. A boy and his mother are locked in a small shed for years without hope of escape. There is however, hope in the love they share and the ways in which they cope. Although the circumstances are horrific, the tale is rendered readable because it is narrated by the innocent voice of the 5 year old boy.Check out a full blog post in the December Archive or by putting ‘Room’ into the Search box.

This book is about finding identity beyond gender. A beautiful story set in the harsh and remote landscape of Labrador.  A child is born intersex, with both male and female genitalia. His journey to adulthood and finding his place in society is remarkable. Check out a full blog post in the May Archive or by putting ‘Annabel’ in the Search box.

This is the story of a severely mentally and physically challenged girl sent to an institution in the 1950’s. Her treatment there is appalling but she finds love and humanity in her friends, especially Daniel. Though  Grace cannot speak, the story is narrated in her voice, both childish and poetic. There are some graphic scenes which make it at times difficult to read.

Evocative and delightfully haunting, this story has an old world quality but felt fresh and new. Set in the Balkans after the war,  it is a folk tale with magic realism. It didn’t matter to me not to be able to distinguish tale from reality, they were artfully interwoven. Unfortunately the story got too complex towards the middle, losing the thread and the crisp, muscular writing which was so enjoyable at the start.

This is a book about the war in Sierra Leone, but more about the before and after. It shows how ordinary lives can be affected by atrocities in the past. Forna’s own father was killed for his political beliefs and her personal story informs the writing. Researching her background enhanced the reading and helped me to understand the themes in the book. Also the fact that I lived in this country for many years.

A large ominous desk looms large in this novel, connecting several individuals who are affected by its mystery and power. This framework could have worked well for her novel but it became unsatisfying because of many loose ends. What I liked about Krause’s writing was the way she captured the complexity of relationships, especially how people can wield such power over one another.