An author who can create a character so invisible (and yet visible), so forgettable and yet evocative, so ordinary and yet remarkable is an artist, no a celebrated, distinguished artist in my humble opinion.
Leo(pold) Gursky from Poland has only ever loved one woman in his life – Alma Merminski – he lived for her and will ultimately die with her thoughts as his sole companion. Leo and Alma are childhood sweethearts, who impression each other over the growing up years and share experiences – first kiss, first intercourse….Alma is sent to US from Poland and Leo, post losing his family in holocaust follows her to the US. When Leo finds her, he discovers, she had a child by him and believing him to be dead is married to another. Leo walks away from his happiness, his love, his child to ensure his sweetheart is happy with the new life.
Leo lives the rest of his life vicariously – watching his child from a distance, trying to find pleasure in things his child likes. He writes a book “History of Love” to immortalise his love and sends them to Alma from Poland while she is in US. The manuscript is entrusted to a friend who moves to Chile during war years and believing (again) Leo to be dead publishes it in his own name, under marital pressure. Leo writes another book, which he sends to his son (who doesn’t know about Leo) and is later shown to be considered as the last manuscript of Leo’s son (Issac) post his death.
The story revolves around the first book “History of Love” – a copy of which is purchased and gifted by an engineer to his wife, who then name their daughter Alma based on the character in the book. Post the engineer’s death, the daughter in her quest to connect with her father, and trying to find happiness for her mother, begins searching for Alma from the book.
The book ends with a meeting between Leo and Alma and the reader is astounded by how the two stories come together and in the most beautiful way.
There are sub-themes in the book related to Holocaust (since all characters are Jews) and plagiarism, but for me, the story is simply about Leo and nothing else. He, who was forgotten by everyone – his love, his son, his readers, his life….He who had to carry a note in his pocket saying he has no family and where his burial plot, if he is found dead. The one who has “word for everything” is rendered speechless in the end.