Monday, August 6, 2007

The History of Love: A Review by Julia Henderson

This is the seventh of a many-part series written by the staff and editors of Fringe Magazine, who will be reviewing books from the Pool as part of the 25 Books Project.

The History of Love was one of those books I avoided at first. Too many people told me how amazing it was, how much I'd love it, how I should run to the nearest independent bookstore and grab a copy.

All of that made me NOT want to read the thing, so I half-heartedly suggested it for my book club and felt not at all crushed when no one picked it. And then I saw it on a buy-one-get-one rack at the bookstore and picked it up. I really didn't know a thing about the book (except that people thought I'd like it), but from the moment I read the first paragraph, I was hooked by author Nicole Krauss's elegant, careful prose.

The author is married to Jonathan Safran Foer of similarly-topiced Everything Is Illuminated. They both live in Brooklyn and write non-traditionally about the Holocaust, and there's no doubt that Foer is the better-known author. But there was something in Krauss's book that tapped into my emotions much more successfully than Foer ever did.

The premise of the story isn't so unique: Teenaged lovers lose touch after the Germans invade Poland and desecrate a Jewish town and the survivors are never the same again; two adults fall in love over a book a generation later, and start a family; the father dies, the children are different because of his death; the young daughter tries to trace her parents' love; the lives of many people intersect in the small world of New York...but Krauss is so clever in the way she weaves these lives together that the reader finds herself completely and utterly immersed in the story, guessing at endings and seduced by the possibility of hope.

I usually speed-read -- afterall, there are too many good books in this world to justify reading slowly -- but The History of Love made me want to read slowly enough to savor every word. And it didn't surprise me that I stopped breathing for a moment when I read the last few sentences, or that instead of immediately moving on to the next book on my list, I waited a few days to give this one time to settle in. I even get that horrible jealous feeling when I see someone reading the novel on the lucky they are that they're still in the middle of it, how sad I am that I've finished it.

You'd be doing yourself a disservice not to read this book. If you need to borrow a copy, just let me know. I want my own copy to be passed to so many people that I get it back waterlogged by flood, fire-tarnished, tattered and worn.

Julia Henderson is Art Editor and Webmistress of Fringe.

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