The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – Deborah Rodriguez
“After hard luck and heartbreak, Sunny finally finds a place to call home—in the middle of an Afghanistan war zone. There, the thirty-eight-year-old serves up her American hospitality to the expats who patronize her coffee shop, including a British journalist, a “danger pay” consultant, and a wealthy and well-connected woman. True to her name, Sunny also bonds with people whose language and landscape are unfamiliar to most Westerners, but whose hearts and souls are very much like our own: the maternal Halajan, who vividly recalls the days before the Taliban and now must hide a modern romance from her ultratraditional son; and Yazmina, a young Afghan villager with a secret that could put everyone’s life in jeopardy. In this gorgeous first novel, New York Times bestselling author Deborah Rodriguez paints a stirring portrait of a faraway place where—even in the fog of political and social conflict—friendship, passion, and hope still exist.”
The above synopsis does a pretty good show of the plot [which makes a change with synopsis’, I find] – the main character, Sunny, runs a coffee shop in Kabul. She has various staff, and the story starts by her introduction to a woman at the Women’s Ministry, whom Sunny then takes under her wing as she is pregnant and alone, and seen as a whore in Afghan society – or would be if anyone knew about it. Throughout the story we see the developing bonds between women that both visit and work at the coffee house, and the start of a plot noting the plight of the Afghan life and troubles – to which the author makes very specific examples of the variety of degradation experienced by the country as a whole.
I really wanted to enjoy this book. Really, really wanted to enjoy it, but it felt like it was more of a chore to read for this very simple reason: it wasn’t really about the people of Afghanistan, about what was happening to this country that Sunny called home, it was more about the women and their yearning for love and sex – it essentially read like “Sex and the City meets Kabul”. If there had been more emphasis on the problems and what was being done to tackle them it may have been more interesting; for instance in one bit Sunny is bemoaning the cost of building a new wall to comply with UN sanctions to get safe status [or something] and then within about three weeks of women’s rallies at the coffee house she suddenly has the money to be able to start doing it.
I felt that everything in this book was too shiny, too glossed over rather than explored in intricate detail. The characters themselves I thought were very one dimensional, and defined by that one thing that we were introduced to when we first met them. And on top of that there was little to no character development – in fact the only character development was in Ahmet and that was such a turn around that it was wholly unrealistic.
Overall the plot was really predictable. The bad guys are obvious from the character Candace, the outcome was too wishy-washy and happily ever after, despite the one character death that you just can’t feel sad for. Or even shocked that it happened in the first place. The women just weren’t realistic either, and everything was too perfect in each scenario – real life just isn’t like that at all.
I wish I could write a better review for this book – I mean, who am I but a blogger in this big wide world of blogging? But genuinely, I think I could have done it better and I haven’t even visited the country. [I *do* have five unpublished novels though… so maybe my NaNo this year could be how to make this book what it should have been?]
I am aware that the author has spent a lot of time in Kabul and Afghanistan, and she obviously knows her stuff. I think she should have kept the overt political tones out of the book as they didn’t really add to it. And, after the first couple of times… we get it. So stop. Please.
Suffice to say I shan’t* be picking up the other book the author has written set in Kabul.
Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? I would be interested to know!
Keep reading folks,
*Doesn’t the word “shan’t” just remind you of Harry Potter? I very rarely use it because of that reason.