The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry – Review

Book: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Year: 2014
Bookhad Rating:    

“A place is no place without a bookstore.”

A. J. Fikry owns a purple Victorian cottage on Alice Island. A widower who lives mostly on frozen foods and is unable to forget his wife Nic who died in a car accident, A.J. is a bookseller who doesn’t suffer fools. In his acerbic admission to the sales rep Amelia Loman, A.J. says that he does not like books that fall into “postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism…[nor] children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and [prefers] not to clutter [his] shelves with young adult.” Amelia makes a last ditch attempt at recommending the book The Late Bloomer, and leaves.

“A question I’ve thought about a great deal is why it is so much easier to write about the things we dislike/hate/acknowledge to be flawed than the things we love.”

All this until a thief steals his rare copy of Tamerlane which A.J. had saved to make some money by selling off at an auction. To make matters worse, A.J. finds a 2-year old girl Maya left in his unlocked bookshop. This occurrence has “completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin”. His periodic visits to the police station – first for this wife’s death, then the theft of Tamerlane, and then to report Maya’s appearance do not help in tangible ways but he is now fast friends with Chief Lambaise.

“If this were a novel, I’d stop reading right now. I’d throw it across the room.”

Surly and disagreeable, A.J. finds himself taking an unlikely affection towards Maya. He agrees to adopt her and raise her as his own when Maya’s mother’s body washes up on the island. He calls her Maya Tamerlane Fikry and Googles everything he needs to know about child rearing – how to give a child a bath, what to feed a child, and what vaccinations to give. He brings up Maya with tender love and on a healthy dose of reading. He also stocks more picture books now that Maya needs them. The small town of Alive first skeptical of A.J then supportive of him help in their own ways to bring her up. So does Ismay his ex-wife’s sister and her writer husband Daniel Parish.

“It is the secret fear that we are unlovable that isolates us,” the passage goes, “but it is only because we are isolated that we think we are unlovable. Someday, you do not know when, you will be driving down a road. And someday, you do not know when, he, or indeed she, will be there. You will be loved because for the first time in your life, you will truly not be alone. You will have chosen to not be alone.” – The Late Bloomer/The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Four years after Amelia left The Late Bloomer in his shop, A.J reads it and reconnects with her on a more personal level. The level on which book readers share books they read – like some sort of magical code which only the people who have read will know. Then, begins the love story of A.J and Amelia.

“I can promise you books and conversation and all my heart.”

TSLAJFWhat I have loved about The Storied Life of A.J Fikry is the charm of the writing and the visceral way in which it connects with a reader. Each chapter starts with a book recommendation and a personal note by AJF on the book. The novel is littered with books you have heard of and even read – Cloud Atlas, Case Histories, The Book Thief – and even a reference to an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Now that was such a wonderful surprise! This book has everything that a close-knit book club or the readers across the world share – a sacred, common love for reading, the knowledge that if someone like the same books as you, they’ll be someone worth knowing, the smell and sanctity of bookstores, the magic of words, and the comfort that books provide. It’s not just a hobby, it is meditation. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has all this delicately woven into the overarching story of a bookseller who is interrupted by a child from driving his life to ruin.

There’s enough suspense and conflict for the average reader to go through. The writing is quite effortless. Additionally, this is a perfect book for a readathon. I finished it in 3.5 hours flat and was smiling to myself. It also has wisdom.

“The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone.”

An absolutely recommended read. It will speak to your heart and make you feel proud to belong to the reading circle. It’s a world worth living in.


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