The History of LoveThe History of Love is a novel in the form of a homage to things lost, as well as to unsolved mysteries. The novel within the novel, also named The History of Love is the basis for all these questions.
Leo Gursky is an old man who feels as though he is disappearing. He tries at all costs to draw attention to himself, but he still feels he has a void in his life. Eventually, he goes on a quest to find his long-lost son and the novel that he wrote as a young man, now published in Chile under the name of Zvi Litvinoff. Alma Singer is a teenage girl who is trying to keep her family together after the loss of her father. Named after the heroine of The History of Love, Alma tries to console her widowed mother (who has recently been requested to translate the novel from Spanish) as well as keep her younger brother Bird (who believes he is a lamed vovnik) from becoming a social pariah.
The main characters are: Leo Gursky, Alma Singer, Bird Singer, Zvi Litvinoff, Bruno, Isaac Moritz, Alma Mereminksi, Misha.
PlotApproximately 70 years before the present, the ten year old, Polish, Jewish Leopold (Leo) Gursky falls in love with his neighbor Alma Mereminski. The two begin a relationship that develops over the course of ten years. In this time, Leo writes 3 books that he gives to Alma since she is the only person who he deeply cares about. The first book is too realistic and boring, the second one is entirely fiction and unconvincing, and the last book is dedicated to his love: “The history of love”. Leo promises he will never love anyone but Alma.
Alma, now 20, is sent to America by her father, who feared the alarming news concerning the fascist Germany. Leo does not know that Alma is pregnant and dreams of going to America to meet her. A short time after, the Germans invade Poland and Leo takes cover in the woods, living on roots, small animals, bugs and what he can steal from farmers’ cellars. After two years of hiding he goes to America and finds Alma but is shocked to hear she thought he had died in the war and had married the son of the manager of the factory she works at. He is devastated when he finds she has had another child with her husband. He asks her to come with him, but she refuses. She tells him, however, about his son Isaac who is now 5 years old. Heartbroken, Leo leaves and becomes a locksmith. Leo regularly watches Isaac from a distance, wishing to be part of the boy’s life but is scared to come in contact with him.
In the present day, Leo is a lonely, old man who waits for his death, along with his recently found [most probably in his imagination]childhood friend, Bruno Shultz (a real life name and an author of Street of Crocodiles, a book mentioned frequently in this book. The real Bruno was killed by a Nazi officer in 1942. Leo says Bruno died in 1941, which was the year of the death of Shultz's family and the beginning of Shultz's brutal imprisonment), especially since Alma has been dead for five years. He still keeps track of his son, who has become a famous writer, much to Leo’s enjoyment since he believes Isaac inherited the talent from his father. Leopold’s depression deepens when he reads in a newspaper that his son died at the age of 60, and he develops an obsession with finding his place in his sons world, to the extent where he breaks into Isaac’s house to see if he had read ”The history of love” . Gursky wants to reread “The history of love” so he tries to get a copy of the book he gave to a friend Zvi Litvinoff. Their friendship dates from when Leo fell gravely ill in Poland, he wrote his own obituary, but Lev stole it in hopes that it would keep his friend alive. Leo writes a letter to Zvi, but, his wife informs him that the book was destroyed in a flood, conspiring to hide that her beloved husband did not write the History of Love.
Unknown to Leo is that the book had been published in a small printing of two thousand copies (and re-published upon the supposed author's death) in Spanish, but under the name of Zvi Litvinoff, who copied the book thinking Leo was killed in Poland. Zvi felt so guilty for copying his book that he added his friend’s stolen obituary as the last chapter, telling his publisher that including the obituary was conditional to printing the book, although it did not make sense. When Leo called to recover the book, his wife, Rosa, fearing her husband would lose his fame if the world found out his well-regarded book was plagiarized, lied about the flood, and then she destroyed the book in a triggered flood. Zvi died later without telling the world about the real author of "The history of love".
In a parallel story, a 15 year old Jewish girl Alma Singer, named after the Alma in “The history of love”, her parents’ favorite book, is struggling to cope with the loss of her father due to cancer. Her mother becomes distant and lonely, escaping in her work: translating books; her younger brother Bird, called so due to him jumping from the second story of a building hoping he could fly, seeks refuge in religion and believes to be one of God’s chosen people thus distancing himself from reality. Alma finds refuge in one of her father’s hobbies: surviving in the wild. Alma also bears a crush on her Russian pen friend who moved to New York, Misha. The two become a couple but they break up because of Alma’s incertitude.
One day, her mother receives a letter from a mysterious man named Jacob Marcus who requests she translate “The history of love” from Spanish to English for the sum of 100.000 dollars, to be paid in increments of $25,000, as the work progresses. Alma’s mother finds the sum suspicious, but the stranger confesses that his mother used to read it to him when he was a child, so it has a great sentimental value. Alma sees this as an opportunity to help her mother recover from her depression and changes her mother’s straight forward letters to Jacob Marcus into more romantic versions. When the letters stop before her mother completes the translation of the book, Alma decides to find the mysterious client.
She starts by noting down what she knows about Jacob Marcus in her diary, and concludes that the Alma in the book was real and proceeds to find her. She searches for Alma Mereminski but realizes she could have married and succeeds to find her under the name of Moritz, but is disappointed to hear she has been dead for five years. However, she finds out that Isaac Moritz is the first Alma's son and a famous writer. When she starts reading his bestseller book, she finds that the main character's name is Jacob Marcus and realizes that Isaac Moritz had hired her mother to translate the book. But he is dead, which explained why the letters had ceased. To be sure, Alma leaves a note on Isaac’s door asking who the writer of the novel is.
In the meanwhile, Bird finds Alma’s diary and misinterprets the names Alma Mereminski and Alma Moritz as being his sister’s real names, and believes they had different fathers. A poorly timed phone call from Isaac’s brother who calls, after reading the note and the original manuscript of the book, to tell Alma that Gursky is the real author, but it just confuses Bird even further and now he suspects that Leopold Gursky is Alma’s real father. To cleanse of his sin of bragging and to regain the status as one of the chosen ones, he decides to set up a meeting with Alma and Gursky, thus doing a good deed without anybody knowing except God.
When the two receive the letter regarding their meeting, both are confused: Alma tries to discover which of the people she met during her searches could have sent her the note, while Leo comes to believe it was Alma who sent him the note, despite her being dead.
The two meet and Leo talks about random things while Alma pieces the puzzle pieces together. When Alma confronts him about his past asking him if ever loved a girl named Alma Mereminski or if he wrote “The History of Love”, the old man has a heart attack and dies.
The last chapter is entitled “The Death of Leopold Gursky” and is identical with the last chapter of the book inside a book “The History of Love” both being the self written obituary of Leopold Gursky.