Thursday, January 01, 2009
Okay, I'm shallow. I picked this up the other day because I was looking for a quick read for New Year's Eve to ensure I made it to the 100 books read in 2008 mark. And it actually ended up being number 101. Not that I'm counting, or anything.
So I was going to do my own synopsis (really), but then I read this one over at Powells:
The summary cracks me up because it's almost as long as the book! You think I'm joking, but I'm not. I think it took me all of an hour to read this little book. And all it made me want to do was make a list of the places I want to visit.
Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zappora Ashkenazi (Zipper) have achieved a happy and balanced life together. She is the yin to his yang. He is the only man she has loved without adjustment. The two live contentedly in a narrow London terrace full of books.
That contentment is thrown into turmoil on or about Ambrose's fiftieth birthday, when they receive the news that he has contracted a mysterious illness that will most certainly lead to his death within the month. In panicked delirium, from beneath their bed Ambrose withdraws an oxblood suitcase containing the ephemera of his long-suppressed life's ambition: to travel the world in a pilgrimage through the alphabet, from Amsterdam to Zanzibar.
Scuttling the responsibilities of their respectably successful careers, the two set off on an urgent voyage through real and imagined geographies of place, of history, of art, and of love.
Zipper is continually frustrated by Ambrose's reticence, but loves him beyond all measure. And Ambrose well appreciates his miraculous good fortune in having Zipper by his side, drawing out the best in him. Zipper does not completely understand Ambrose's compulsion to pursue his childhood dream, but her commitment to him is absolute and so she, too, is compelled to make this journey.
In Amsterdam, they revisit past debates on beauty and art. In Berlin, they weigh the burdens of history. In the glow of the Chartres windows, they explore the stations of life. In Deauville, they fondly recall their youthful love. At E, Ambrose adjusts his long-drafted itinerary, crossing out Elba and replacing it with the Eiffel Tower of Zipper's beloved Paris, the city of their first predestined encounter. While resting in Florence beside the youthfully vital David, they meet a chivalrous old man who shares his insight into enduring romance. It is in Giza that Ambrose begins to falter as he climbs a pyramid, and they miss Haifa thanks to a sandstorm. In Istanbul, they realize that Ambrose can go no further and they must return to their London terrace.
But their voyage is not over. The two continue their odyssey, no longer via plane and rail, but now through the power of shared desire and love. The wise words of a hallucinatory camel in Ambrose's fevered dream ring out to them with equanimity: Why, you ask? There is no why, Master Zephyr. Life goes on. Death goes on. Love goes on. It is all as simple as that.
In the tradition of romantic legend and fable, The End of the Alphabet is a lovingly rendered, richly nuanced treatise on the nature of true and enduring love. The story of Ambrose and Zappora is a precious gift, one that illuminates a pathway to the return of balance and joy after unthinkable loss.