(“If I had a camera,” I said, “I’d take a picture of you every day. That way I’d remember how you looked every single day of your life.” “I look exactly the same.” “No, you don’t. You’re changing all the time. Every day a tiny bit. If I could, I’d keep a record of it all.” “If you’re so smart, how did I change today?” “You got a fraction of a millimeter taller, for one thing. Your hair grew a fraction of a millimeter longer. And your breasts grew a fraction of a —” “They did not!” “Yes, they did.” “Did NOT.” “Did too.” “What else, you big pig?” “You got a little happier and also a little sadder.” “Meaning they cancel each other out, leaving me exactly the same.” “Not at all. The fact that you got a little happier today doesn’t change the fact that you also became a little sadder. Every day you become a little more of both, which means that right now, at this exact moment, you’re the happiest and the saddest you’ve ever been in your whole life.” “How do you know?” “Think about it. Have you ever been happier than right now, lying here in the grass?” “I guess not. No.” “And have you ever been sadder?” “No.” “It isn’t like that for everyone, you know. Some people, like your sister, just get happier and happier everyday. And some people, like Beyla Asch, just get sadder and sadder. And some people, like you, get both.” “What about you? Are you the happiest and saddest right now that you’ve ever been?” “Of course I am.” “Why?” “Because nothing makes me happier and nothing makes me sadder than you.”) —Nicole Krauss, The History of Love
And then I thought: Perhaps that is what it means to be a father — to teach your child to live without you. —Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Only the last page was different. It said: THE DEATH OF LEOPOLD GURSKY. Litvinoff felt a gust of cold in his heart. He glanced at his friend, who was breathing heavily. He started to read. When he got to the end he shook his head and read it again. And again after that. He read it over and over, mouthing the words as if they were not an announcement of death, but a prayer for life. As if just by saying them, he could keep his friend safe from the angel of death, the force of his breath alone keeping its wings pinned for a moment more, a moment more — until it gave up and left his friend alone. All night, Litvinoff watched over his friend, and all night he moved his lips. And for the first time in as long as he could remember, he did not feel useless.

As morning broke, Litvinoff saw with relief that the color had returned to his friend’s face. He was sleeping the restful sleep of recovery. When the sun had climbed to the position of eight o’clock, he stood. His legs were stiff. His insides felt scraped out. But hew as filled with happiness. He folded THE DEATH OF LEOPOLD GURSKY in half. And here is another thing no one knows about Zvi Litvinoff: for the rest of his life he carried in his breast pocket the page he’d protected all night from becoming real, so that he could buy a little more time — for his friend, for life.

Nicole Krauss, The History of Love
A feeling of sadness came over him. All these years Litvinoff had imagined he was so much like his friend. He’d prided himself on what he considered their similarities. But the truth was that he was no more like the man fighting a fever in the bed ten feet away than he was like the cat that had just slunk off: they were different species. It was obvious, Litvinoff thought. All you had to do was look at how each had approached the same subject. Where he saw a page of words, his friend saw the field of hesitations, black holes, and possibilities between the words. Where his friend saw dappled light, the felicity of flight, the sadness of gravity, he saw the solid form of a common sparrow. Litvinoff’s life was defined by a delight in the weight of the real; his friend’s by a rejection of reality, with its army of flat-footed facts. Looking at his reflection in the dark window, Litvinoff believed something had been peeled away and a truth revealed to him: He was an average man. A man willing to accept things as they were, and, because of this, he lacked the potential to be in any way original. And though he was wrong in every way about this, after that night nothing could dissuade him. —Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

three passages:

from “my mother’s sadness” in the history of love:

2.  WHAT I AM NOT

My brother and I used to play a game.  I’d point to a chair.  ”THIS IS NOT A CHAIR,” I’d say.  Bird would point to the table.  ”THIS IS NOT A TABLE.”  ”THIS IS NOT A WALL,” I’d say.  ”THAT IS NOT A CEILING.”  We’d go on like that.  ”IT IS NOT RAINING OUT.”  ”MY SHOE IS NOT UNTIED!” Bird would yell.  I’d point to my elbow.  ”THIS IS NOT A SCRAPE.”  Bird would lift his knee.  ”THIS IS ALSO NOT A SCRAPE!”  ”THAT IS NOT A KETTLE!”  ”NOT A CUP!”  ”NOT A SPOON!”  ”NOT DIRTY DISHES!”  We denied whole rooms, years, weathers.  Once, at the peak of our shouting, Bird took a deep breath.  At the top of his lungs, he shrieked:  ”I!  HAVE NOT!  BEEN!  UNHAPPY!  MY WHOLE!  LIFE!”  ”But you’re only seven,” I said.

&

18.  MY MOTHER NEVER FELL OUT OF LOVE WITH MY FATHER

She’s kept her love for him as alive as the summer they first met.  In order to do this, she’s turned life away.  Sometimes she subsists for days on water and air.  Being the only known complex life-form to do this, she should have a species named after her.  Once Uncle Julian told me how the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti said that sometimes just to paint a head you have to give up the whole figure.  To paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape.  It might seem like you’re limiting yourself at first, but after a while you realize that having a quarter-of-an-inch of something you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you pretended to be doing the whole sky.

My mother did not choose a leaf or a head.  She chose my father, and to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world.

&

19.  THE WALL OF DICTIONARIES BETWEEN MY MOTHER AND THE WORLD GETS TALLER EVERY YEAR

Sometimes pages of the dictionaries come loose and gather at her feet, shallon, shallop, shallot, shallow, shalom, sham, shaman, shamble, like the petals of an immense flower.  When I was little, I thought that the pages on the floor were words she would never be able to use again, and I tried to tape them back in where they belonged, out of fear that one day she would be left silent.

The words of our childhood became strangers to us — we couldn’t use them in the same way and so we chose not to use them at all. Life demanded a new language. —Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

the first chapter of the history of love is just sosososo good.

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