An altogether easier read than the Girl Who Played With Fire, this novel is ideal for a trip away or a light read for parent’s leading a busy life who then try and meet the girls once a month for a bookclub. It isn’t very taxing of a novel but has some hidden messages.
Immediately I noticed the blurb gives a run down of each character to be expected to appear in the novel, I wondered how Rodriguez would manage to do so seamlessly. She begins with Sunny, the owner of the Little Coffee Shop and quickly establishes the heart of the novel. Counteracting the happiness of the first chapter Rodriguez injects the more realistic terror of what we have come to know of novels set in Kabul, Afghanistan, by introducing Yazmina. A young girl stripped from her family to be sold but is cast away on the streets once her captors learn she of her dark secret. From the get-go I anticipated the arrival of the rest of the women, and I kept flicking to the blurb mid paragraph to see if I could predict how Rodriguez would wove them into the story. As I was constantly expecting a new character and ticking them off as I read, I feel this does not make for a good reading experience. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Rodriguez’ style of writing won me over and by the 6th chapter, the arrival of the fourth woman, I was hooked and had forgotten to expect the rest of the characters. She does this by offering enough information about the first three women, that we are more interested in their lives. Particularly, Halajan. In Chapter 5 Rodriguez releases the first of two insights into the minds of two of the men in Halajan’s life. One, the kind and ever patient childhood friend whom gives her a letter once a week she will never read for her illiteracy, and, two, her son who up till now is the first man we see who is in conflict with the strong women around him. Both accounts of these men distract us from the idea that more women will be introduced because the story is interesting enough already. And then we meet Candace. Rodriguez does the same for Isabel, she distracts us with exposition from the other women’s lives and then introduces her storyline.
Hello, is that you, Mrs. Hosseini?
Growing up, I was a huge fan of Khaled Hosseini – the author of the bestselling The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns and And The Mountains Echoed– and this novel reads the same. Albeit, Rodriguez uses far more simple language and at times can be a bit mundane. Yes, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, is reminiscent of a Hosseini novel but is this only because of the setting? Hosseini has been instrumental in bringing forth the issues women face in Afghanistan to the Western World of fiction but something is stopping me from giving Deborah Rodriguez the same status. I don’t think this novel deals with the issues Muslim women face with the great weight they deserve. Don’t get me wrong, there are some distressing scenes in the novel yet, because there are so many, it becomes difficult to invest in all of them. And I am in two minds as to whether the author does them justice or not, can you help?
Does a rundown of every possible catastrophe work or not?
There is Yazmina’s hidden pregnancy, a secret school for terrorists disguised as an educational system, two love affairs, various scenes set in an abhorrent women’s prison, three bombings and a wedding…to name a few. This world is far from the one I live in, especially here in Ireland and worlds away from anything most of her fanbase would have experienced. I feel as though the author rushed through parts of the novel where she could have expanded a lot more or maybe she could have referenced such issues in parts of the novel initially before they happened. For example, it is absolutely shocking to learn that it is common for terrorists to set off at least two bombs consecutively, a couple of minutes in between, one to kill as many as they can and the next to kill the loved ones who come running. This contemptible act is thrown on us as the reader more as a fleeting thought as the bombs are happening. Again, without much weight to it.
At the risk of perpetuating Western World Elitism – can you imagine such a harrowing thought? To have to always be on guard for such terror. From a stylistic point of view I would imagine this fact would hit home a lot harder to readers if it was introduced in a conversation in the beginning of the novel before any event of bombing so that it resonates with the reader and allows them time to mull it over in shock, thus, making the scene of the bombings a whole lot more significant.
Does Rodriguez know this?
However, perhaps this is intentional. Because Deborah Rodriguez herself has lived in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and I presume has witnessed most if not all of the accounts she has recorded in the novel, then, I think you could become immune to the gravity of the oppression these women (and men) suffer in Afghanistan. Though maybe, it is my narrow mind, so far from these troubles that I think she is immune. Perhaps it is actually the alternative completely – Rodriguez has experienced this city firsthand and perhaps by not devoting paragraphs and paragraphs of explanation and attempts to drive the point of devastation into the heart of the reader, she is giving a truthful, unembellished, account of what life is like in Kabul? As I said before, she rallies off several harrowing events that just one alone would make for a climactic novel but perhaps this is on purpose, because it is not common for just one bomb, one secret pregnancy or one man to suffer through the demons in his mind debating between tradition and modern society, but many. This is a very real thing that is happening in our world. Not history, but right now. These things happen every day and Rodriguez is not going to demean or belittle that in any way by succumbing to the stylistic conventions of the modern world. What do you think?
Not for Everyone.
Kirkus Reviews said this story is ‘as if Maeve Binchy had written The Kite Runner’.
This novel becomes somewhat sappy and altogether a bit too cheesy for my liking but the author has humanised a war we so often forget. I wish the author could have spent more time fleshing out the characters – each as stereotypical as the next. She uses unrealistic terms and seems to forget that she can insert characters thoughts into a novel rather than them having to say them out loud to the opposite character. Sunny is scared for her love interest running into a bomb and he says “I will protect them” and she replies with “but who will protect you?” and the line goes dead.
In my mind, it would have been much more effective had the line cut before she could say anything and she mumbles that line to herself. We would still get the same knowledge from the scene and it creates more dimension to her character, which I cannot imagine would say something so blatant to the man she is idolising. She still has a long term boyfriend, let us not forget. It was moments like these that I STRUGGLED to read on. Absolute ‘Chick-Lit’ stereotypical nonsense.
Unauthentic and implausible ending, unfortunately.
I, for one, can’t see a plausible solution to this terrorism any time soon and I don’t think Rodriguez does either, but, I will hand it to her – she sums up the resilient strength of afghans through her character of Bashir Hadi, who manages to clout Sunny over the head with a baseball bat of reason:
“You Americans, I hear you talk in the coffeehouse every day and every night, revealing your personal problems. You expect so much, you feel that you deserve good things to come our way, and yet you understand so little. Afghanistan is hard and not only hard for foreigners. You can leave and get a job and see a doctor and go to college and buy whatever you want. We are trapped here always. You whine and moan over little things and we’re the ones who have to clean up after you.”
Just allow that to settle in.
The publishers have aimed this novel to the Book Club readerbase and has included questions to discuss with friends – opening up the floor to discuss the world of these five women in detail and creating a conversation that needs to happen.
For any of you who have read The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul and share my opinions or want to go through these questions with me then please leave a comment or send me a message!
I have set up this blog to find my own kind of interwebbian book club and would love to hear your thoughts!
Coming up next time is Lee Child’s The Hard Way – A Jack Reacher Novel.