The End of the Alphabet
Most of the books that AAR receives from publishers fall into the romance or Chick Lit categories, but it’s not uncommon for us to receive books from other genres that have some sort of romantic element. The End of the Alphabet is such a book. It’s straight fiction – a story about a dying man and his wife who travel the world when they discover that he has but a month left to live. It must be admitted: I chose this book because of its overwhelming cuteness. It’s a teeny little hardcover, with a dust jacket that looks like a travel journal. Factor in the quaint little camels, and I just had to read it. While it wasn’t the most brilliant book in the world, it was definitely better than the last “cute” book I read (The Black Violin).
Right up front, we learn that Ambrose Zephyr is dying. He has a month to live, give or take. He’s naturally devastated, as if his wife, Zappora (“Zipper”) Ashkenazi. They’ve been married a number of years, and have no children. Ambrose’s father was a newspaper man, and Ambrose grew up obsessed with typefaces and alphabets. His response to his upcoming death is to construct an alphabetical list of favorite places (some he’s been to before, and some he’s always longed to see) that he and Zipper can visit together before his death. He starts out with Amsterdam and hopes to end with Zanzibar.
What follows is part travelogue, part love story, and part reflection. As Ambrose and Zipper proceed through the alphabet, they look back on the memories each place invokes. They soon become aware that they are racing against time; actually reaching Zanzibar is probably not going to happen.
There’s no doubt that this is all very high-concept. The book is as prettily written as it is packaged. Indeed, the words are so carefully chosen that it almost reads more like poetry than a novel. Though the prose is spare, you do get a sense of who Ambrose and Zipper are, and why they love each other dearly. It’s quite sweet, really, and they travel element lends an exotic air to it all.
So is it worth reading? Yes…and no. Though I enjoyed it, I couldn’t quite divorce myself from the question of value. This cute and precious book is $16.95, and it would take most people two hours – tops – to read it. Indeed, I read most of it myself at a Diana Gabaldon book-signing while I waited for my turn. And though I have the enviable job perk that allows me to read most books for free, I’m well aware that most readers have to pay for their habit. I can’t in all honesty say that it’s really worth the money. If you enjoy high-concept (as I sometimes do), it’s worth a look – but only if you borrow it from the library. It’s so short you could actually just plant yourself in a comfortable chair and read it right there. You’ll get all the enjoyment, and your pocketbook won’t be any lighter.