Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Published: 24 March 2016
Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 stars)
Oh my. I am spellbound by this book.
From the moment I picked up it up I could not stop thinking about it. And now, having finished it, all I want to do is talk about it some more.
I loved this book. I really did. I loved the characters, the storytelling, the settings, the themes the book explores, everything. I loved it all.
But first, confession time: I read this book without having read the prequel, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul. Do I think this mattered? Nope, not one tiny bit. There was enough back story to acquaint me with all the characters and plot of the previous novel. I don’t think I missed out on a thing, even if I would like to go back and read it sometime.
This was a book about finding a place where you belong, about clashes of culture and beliefs, and importantly, about the lives of Afghan women in contemporary Afghan society. The oppression of women in Afghanistan is a delicate theme – but what I loved is that the book explored it through the eyes of Afghan characters – Layla, Halajan, Kat, and Ahmet – and not through the eyes of ‘Westerners’. While some of the details and revelations are gruelling and heartbreaking, there is an underlying feeling of hope that permeates though the pages and promises a better tomorrow.
But it is not just in relation to the treatment of women that the reader is shocked by, we are also exposed to a whole new side of war torn Afghanistan, a side that we might not even have considered before:
The story of the hero lion was one of Najama’s and Halajan’s favourites. Of course, she had not shared all the details with her granddaughter. Like how, after the mujahideen had driven the country into violence and chaos, there was no one left to feed the animals in the zoo, and many of them died of hunger.
My favourite character in the book was Halajan. She’s an enigmatic and unconventional woman living in a patriarchal world whose pillars are conventional, parochial and conformist. Halajan is an older woman, who remembers a time before the Taliban regime overtook Afghanistan; before women had to wear burqas, before they were not allowed to drive, or laugh, or paint their nails or leave the house unaccompanied by a male member of the family. And she longs for it. But she does not despair in her misery – Halajan is positive, and hopeful, and willing to speak her thoughts to whoever will listen – she is the epitome of a strong-willed woman in a male dominated world.
Rodriguez displays some supreme storytelling skills, exploring thought-provoking themes while keeping the underlying “feel” of the book light. The focus of the book is not just on the life of Afghan women – we also get intertwined in Sunny’s life after Jack and her longing to find a place to call home, we get an insight into a clash of cultures when Layla meets Kat, and we are invited to be in the presence of to Joe’s gentle character and to learn his story, that also contains a sad revelation.
All in all, this book was superbly written, and is a must read for every woman.If for nothing else but to remind the us for how blessed we are us are to lead such privileged free lives, with the right to education, the right to dye our hair, the ability to go out for coffee on our own, to write and read, to paint our nails, to speak up and have our voices heard. To remind us to never take it for granted.
I received this book from NetGallery in exchange for an honest review. All quotes were taken from an ARC, subject to change in the final edition.