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Kid, Love and Resurrection in a Bookstore : Reviewing The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry

Let me start with a confession. I stop to watch whenever I come across You've Got Mail running on any channel. And no, I'm not romantic enough for that movie. I just stop to watch the bookstore scenes.
There is something so cosy and reassuring about an old and small bookstore, where picking a book becomes a very private, a very intimate, a loving act. I feel like walking into such a store and spending half a day or more, just loitering through the well laden shelves, sitting down occasionally, flipping few pages now and then, finally walking out with a treasured bag of books. 

Mr. A. J. Fikry, the protagonist of The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, runs the small and only bookstore on Alice island. He is an eccentric with quite definite tastes in books. He knows his books and certainly not afraid to refuse any that doesn't comes upto his mark, even if they are the bestsellers of the time. The list of what he is not going to stock on his shelves is long. I mention only one gem out of that list. ( "I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and - I imagine this goes without saying - vampires.") How can I not like such a bookseller? 

But he is also a lonely widower, who is going through the motions of living. And though he feels an occasional pang of guilt over hurting someone, he is not going to change his behaviour. He does not know how to. He does not know because he is cut off from humanity.
His loneliness is unbearable. (No, the real difficulty of living alone is that no one cares if you are upset. No one cares why a thirty-nine-year-old man has thrown a plastic tub of vindaloo across a room like a toddler.) His loneliness is insurmountable, not only because he does not have anyone who would go to the trouble of connecting and caring for a grieving loner who is in anger over his loss, but also because he is not able to feel the tinge of humanity or love or care for anyone.

But things take a turn when two year old Maya turns up at his store. He clumsily changes her diapers. (Babies move more than books and aren't as conveniently shaped.) He is not sure about what needs to be done to look after a baby, but he takes up to look after the baby for the weekend with the support of his sister-in-law and Google. Being a lonely person and never being around kids, Fikry is completely unsuitable for the role of caring for child. He is completely out of his depth. But within that two days, he starts growing this strange sense of responsibility for her. Towards the end of that weekend, Fikry gives Maya a bath. He gets ready for this task with quite a few Google searches. And the bath: it is one of the most beautiful passages I have read in a long time. He sings to her in the bath; she claps. I don't like to go emotional while reading. But that small passage made me. Giving a bath to your kid, that must be something awesome. (He lifts her out of the tub and then towels her off, wiping between each perfect toe.)

The book - and the life of the main characters - though based in a bookstore, is not about books alone. It is about the human bonds that makes our lives unique. How love for the baby Maya changes Fikry's life, how and what he learns about relationships, how his life changes because of Maya, how he finds love again because of Maya


More than books, more than humanity in general, this is a book about how a child changes or can change a person's life for good, making him a better human capable of understanding love. 
It takes a certain kind of courage to love a kid because you may not be able to express it in understandable ways and this non-understanding may make you doubt your own love. But you love your kid no matter what. You cannot, just cannot stop loving and caring for this big bundle of joy that is in your life and making it better with her presence. She teaches you the purest form of love. And her love makes you know and believe in the power of love and make you care for humanity in general. 
Yes, Dad. Dad is what I am. Dad is what I became... Dad. What a word. What a little big word. What a word and what a world! 

And looking after that kid, being her family, being her father trumps all books and a bookstore, and all other riches.




Author- Gabrielle Zevin
Price- Rs 350
Publisher- Hachette India

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