Thursday, November 19, 2015

THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY – GABRIELLE ZEVIN

When was the last time you picked up a book and absolutely could not stop reading except to eat or do other necessaries? Thank goodness my sister-in-law came over the other day and handed me this book saying, “You have got to read this and tell me if you like it.” With a big sigh I finished it today after starting right before bed yesterday. Two o'clock this morning I decided to get up and finish. That has happened to me I don't think since I read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry or maybe The Last Stand of Major Pettigrew and to be sure this book evoked those same feelings. Now, if only I can put my finger on what exactly it is that makes me so avid about finishing a book. Is it that the story is so enchanting, is it the unusual relationships portrayed, or perhaps the way the characters touch ones heart? All of those I surmise. In the first chapter it began to feel a little Silas Marner-ish as in - lonely man loses something prized and it its place finds a perfect child. Silas Marner was always a favorite of mine since Senior English in 1969, and the hook was too strong to resist.

A.J. Fikry is a lonely, depressed, middle-aged brown skinned widower running a not-too-prosperous bookstore on Alice island. Since Fikry is a book snob, the store is stocked only with those titles he sees as “literary.” Book lovers often feel a need to educate others about literature (witness this blog) and so it is with Fikry. He buys not what people ask for but what he thinks they should read, and by golly he does get some to read out of their preferred genre. The shingle hanging over the shop door is priceless and reads as follows:

ISLAND BOOKS
Alice Island's Exclusive Provider of Fine Literary Content Since 1999
No Man is an Island Every Book is a World

When Fikry's prized possession, a rare book of Poe poetry, that was supposed to ensure his retirement is stolen and a baby, Maya, is abandoned in his store, his life is transformed. Enter also a new book sales rep and a potential romance. Then there is his persistent sister-in-law who wants to save him from himself, the local policeman who reads crime novels, and a philandering brother-in-law. They all become newly interested in Fikry's life with child. He in turn enters the world of the community from which he has always kept himself apart. Once he adopts Maya the community sets out to help him raise her and so the reader gets to know a whole village of surrogate parents. Underlying the plot are the questions of Maya's parentage and the whereabouts of the Poe.

Fikry's fiction of choice is the short story and each chapter begins with a review by him of one and within a few chapters the reader realizes he is writing these reviews to Maya. Interspersed in the chapters also are references to many notable books and writers. How could I not like a book about books and the power of stories to change lives? But also what a great book for character development.


It is always a must for me to examine a book. Check out the cover, smell it, read the dedications and the notes at the end. It is all good with this one. Come to think of it, it just may be that a book full of people who have so much empathy in this world where we see so little of that anymore, may be why I loved it so much. 

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