“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering. ”
“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl whose father was shrewd enough to scrounge together all the zloty he had to send his youngest daughter to America… At night he stayed up writing his book. He sent her a letter into which he’d copied eleven chapters in tiny In the summer of 1941, the Einsatzgruppen drove deeper east, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews. On a bright, hot day in July, they entered Slonim. At that hour, the boy happened to be lying on his back in the woods thinking about the girl. You could say it was his love for her that saved him. In the years that followed, the boy became a man who became invisible. In this way, he escaped death. Once upon a time a man who had become invisible arrived in America. He’d spent three and a half years hiding, mostly in trees, but also cracks, cellars, holes. Then it was over. The Russian tanks rolled in. For six months he lived in a Displaced Persons camp. He got word to his cousin who was a locksmith in America… Finally his papers came through. He took a train to a boat, and after a week he arrived in New York Harbor. A cool day in November. Folded in his hand was the address of the girl. That night he lay awake on the floor of his cousin’s room. The radiator clanged and hissed, but he was grateful for the warmth. In the morning his cousin explained to him three times how to take the subway to Brooklyn. He bought a bunch of roses but they wilted because though his cousin had explained the way three times he still got lost. At last he found the place. Only as his finger pressed the doorbell did the thought cross his mind that perhaps he should have called… At last he managed three words: Come with me. The sound of children shouting came from the street below. She squeezed her eyes shut. Come with me, he said, holding out his hand. Tears rolled down her face. Three times he asked her. She shook her head. I can’t, she said. She looked down at the floor. Please, she said. And so he did the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life: he picked up his hat and walked away. And if the man who once upon a time had been a boy who promised he’d never fall in love with another girl as long as he lived kept his promise, it wasn’t because he was stubborn or even loyal. He couldn’t help it. And having hidden for three and a half years, hiding his love for a son who didn’t know he existed didn’t seem unthinkable. Not if it was what the only woman he would ever love needed him to do. After all, what does it mean for a man to hide one more thing when he has vanished completely?”
“I want to say somewhere: I’ve tried to be forgiving. And yet. There were times in my life, whole years, when anger got the better of me. Ugliness turned me inside out. There was a certain satisfaction in bitterness. I courted it. It was standing outside, and I invited it in. I scowled at the world. And the world scowled back. We were locked in a stare of mutual disgust. I used to let the door slam in people’s faces. I farted where I wanted to fart. I accused cashiers of cheating me out of a penny, while holding the penny in my hand. And then one day I realized I was on my way to being the sort of schmuck who poisons pigeons. People crossed the street to avoid me. I was a human cancer. And to be honest: I wasn’t really angry. Not anymore. I had left my anger somewhere long ago. Put it down on a park bench and walked away. And yet. It had been so long, I didn’t know any other way of being. One day I woke up and said to myself: It’s not too late. The first days were strange. I had to practice smiling in front of the mirror. But it came back to me. It was as if a weight had been lifted. I let go, and something let go of me.”
This quote pretty much sums up the premise of this book. Leo is the boy in love and writes a book called the History of Love and Alma is the girl who breaks his heart and Isaac is the son he never gets to know. Leo turns into a bitter old man until he lets his anger go and begins to write another book, The Words For Everything. He thinks his first book, The History of Love, was destroyed but actually his childhood friend ends up publishing it in South America in Spanish and claiming it as his own.
A young man ends up picking up a copy of the History of Love in his travels and names his daughter, Alma, after the girl in the book. When the man dies, his wife is asked to translate the book into English and his daughter Alma starts researching her namesake.
I loved the writing in this book and the characters. I thought this was hilarious and sad at the same time like when Leo as an old man will knock over displays in stores and mess up Starbucks orders and make scenes in public just because he does not want to die on a day when he is not seen. Even though the book is about a book called the History of Love, you see the different kinds of love– young romantic love, obsessive love, mother- daughter love, father-son love, afraid-to-be -in-love love, etc. and the damage that secrets and lies and grudges can do. The plot was confusing to follow at times but the writing made up for it and this is a book that I will read again and again and probably get something different from it every time.
I gave this 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.