Saturday, April 14, 2012

What "The History of Love" really touches on

I don't take the time to read much fiction.  It's not that I think it's wrong, nor that I don't enjoy fiction - I simply don't make enough time in my reading regimen to fit in fiction.  I'm still in the habit of reading several books simultaneously; I guess I picked that up getting through college.

On the suggestion of a college-bound young adult who's a respected reader and writer in her own right, I took the time to read "The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss.  Please don't look at this post as a "book review" or as a plug for the book, either.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, but the climax was lacking.  The book basically wove the lives of a few believable characters together, from various stations in life, and, most everyone in the plot has grieved the loss of a loved one.  The book captured my attention because one of the main characters was a Polish survivor of the Nazi invasion.  That character, Leo, spoke the loudest to me.

Leo was separated from his first love, Alma, just as their teen years end .  She travels to New York avoiding the Nazi Death machine.  When they were reunited in the States, she was already married, and, raising the son she and Leo conceived just before she left Poland.  Their son Issac grows up to be a famous author, and all the meanwhile, Leo who wrote a book as a young man was unaware his own book was published by his friend, under his friend's name, a friend who was supposed to safeguard the book for him.

So without spoiling the plot too much or giving away the ending, I simply have one point of the book I want to draw to the surface: Thinking about your own Death.

A major reoccurring thread in the character of Leo is his ceaseless near-obsession with his eventual death.    He continually has an awareness that each day he lives, could be his last.  His main concern though is not being noticed, in life or death.  

There's no launching off into adventure or living life to fullest for Leo with this awareness.  You might think the author would take the plot in the direction of Leo making the most of this life, but that's not the case.

Myself, personally, I daily think of my death.  Not in a morbid way, and by the way Leo is not morbid in his pondering either.  My initial waking thought each day consists of an awe and awareness that I've made it through the night.  My first cognitive thoughts are of thanking God for His provisions of a safe night's rest, and a new day.  And then as the day goes on, periodically I wonder what happens after we die.  I think of good friends who've died.  I think of loved ones of have died.  I think about my death.

The value, to me, of the History of Love wasn't the love story of Alma, or the questions of religion that the book raises through a character who thinks he might be the Messiah.  The value was reminding us that we too one day will die, as Leo constantly considers.  Sounds a bit morbid or morose to you?  It doesn't have to be.

I think it's healthy to consider the brevity of life (again, not exact the direction Krauss takes Leo).  A daily awareness of the fragility of life might do more than help us plan for the future or help us enjoy each day... it might make us appreciative of the mystery of life and existence.  And yet....

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