Book review: The storied life of A.J.Fikry

Thanks to my lovely friend Divya Iyer who thoughtfully gifted me this book for my birthday. As her note to me sweetly said, we have a shared love for the written word. I was the queen of non-fiction, and she, the queen of fiction. As I am exploring the newness of reading fiction, I am also observing them as a writer – and gosh, am I enjoying that bit?

The storied life of A.J.Fikry started off slow and didn’t captivate my attention. It was not a page turner, but I did want to stick around and see where it went. The story is set in a bookstore on a remote island, and is about the bookstore owner, A.J.Fikry. A.J.F has just lost his beloved wife as the book begins, and sooner than expected, he gets a gift that gives him meaning in his life. A two year old precocious kid Maya is left at his bookstore, and he quickly learns the ropes of being a ‘good dad’.

The little island of Alice has a few characters, and you get to know each one’s backstory. The writing style is interesting, with each chapter beginning with AJF’s thoughts about specific books. These are a bit abstract to read, if you have not known or read the books or the authors that are being talked about, as have I, for example. The Chief of Police, Lambaise has to be the most warm-hearted character in this book, apart from the protagonist. AJF finds love again, and Maya grows up to be a writer. AJF’s dead wife’s twin sister and her husband also have key roles to play in the story. The book has a perfect element of steady and well-developed characters, plot twists, sorrow and good nature, all thrown in to make for the kind of story one wants to read.

When I read books, there are some parts of it, some paragraphs, that always leave a mark. Here is one such para where AJF’s sister in law is describing how she would like a book to be: “When I’m choosing something new, though, something just for myself, my favourite kind of character is a woman in a faraway place. India. Or Bangkok. Sometimes she leaves her husband. Sometimes she never had a husband because she knew, wisely, that married life would not be for her. I like when she has multiple lovers. I like when she wears hats to block her fair skin from the sun. I like when she travels and has adventures. I like the descriptions of hotels and suitcases with stickers on them. I like descriptions of food and clothes and jewellery. A little romance but not too much. The story is period. No cellphones. No social networking. No internet at all. Ideally, it’s set in the 1920s or 1940s. Maybe there’s a war going on, but it’s just a backdrop. No bloodshed. Some sex but nothing too graphic. No children. Children often spoil a story for me”

The book is so much about readers and writers and thoughts they have. How as a writer you think of clever sentences, but second guess them later, or stash them away in your brain for using in the right context at the right time.

I did start to tear up when disease and death rear their ugly head again. A disease like aphasia, which I got to know of recently. A slow deterioration and death that I witnessed personally. Father and daughter conversations that I wish I have had, but haven’t, since I lost my father decades ago. Sometimes I really wonder, does everything have to take me back to some personal loss? Is this the writer’s greatness, or is this just me? Always feeling emotions, and trying to connect dots -perhaps a bit more than necessary?

On that note, I would end this book review. I liked the book. I liked AJF and could relate to his old-schooledness, if I may call it that. I have never read a book on a kindle till date. I cannot imagine living a slow life on an island, but I can certainly imagine being stubborn about not wanting to adopt technology to keep up 🙂

Do give it a read. I want bookstores and books to flourish forever. Books are precious. Books open up worlds. Read, and encourage everyone around you to read.