Have you got your tissues ready ladies? If not, you are probably going to need them by the end of this deceivingly pretty covered novel. Or maybe I’m just soft. Either way The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul is now on my list of favourite chick-lit books ever. A great thing about this book before you even begin it, is that there are no promises of spectacular-ness on the front or indeed on the back cover of this book except for the small and unassuming little praise, “As if Maeve Binchy had written The Kite Runner”. However I will freely admit I have no idea who Maeve Binchy is, and therefore it didn’t really strike a chord with me. (A Google session will occur in the next 15 minutes though so I can revel in my ignorance until then.)For me this was a winner, although I love to see what people think sometimes having more praise on the cover and having it almost outweigh the title of the book has always been a no for me, I’m not sorry.
As a debut novel Deborah Rodriquez handles herself beautifully. Beginning with the oh-so-famous and much loved quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Women are like tea bags; you never know how strong they are until they’re put in hot water,” it sums this book up ever so simply and without a doubt perfectly.
This book explores the five different but entwined lives of five strong-willed women in one of the harshest and most dangerous places on earth, Afghanistan and how they try and make the best of what they’ve got whilst encouraging each other on to live their lives.
Like a strand of DNA this women fit together.
Rodriquez really achieves something memorable in this book and that is the way she delicately handles such serious issues. Issues like child prostitution, the use of women and children as a form of collateral, abuse of women, traditional ways of life vs morality and of course the ever present idea of breeding terrorism. This collection of issues are so serious, you could spend an era discussing them individually and never find a clear cut path to the solution of how you stop them, but Rodriguez carefully and respectfully is able to mix the fear and seriousness of these issues with the lightheartedness that stops this book from becoming a depressing and altogether too-much-to-handle mess.
I’m always worried I’ll give too much away when I attempt to explain a plot like this one. This book is to me chick-lit but with one key difference, there is heartbreak that you won’t find in books like Sex And The City or Confessions Of A Shopaholic. It’s not necessarily about a man who breaks a woman’s heart although there is some of that, nor is it about the quite frankly ridiculous assertion that all women have a problem with shopping (I do have this problem), it’s not even solely about women cat-fighting. Instead it’s a mixture of everything that every chick-lit fan will love thrown into a heated and terrifying mixing pot with the recipe’s key ingredients being the issues that a country under turmoil such as Afghanistan has to face each and every day.
It’s about the fear that a country like Afghanistan can bring, but yet about the resilience that same country shows. Particularly, it has to be said this book embodies both the fear and resilience in two of its characters who seem to represent Afghanistan. One is Yazmina, a young girl brought up under the Taliban’s reign – widowed and secretly pregnant she is collateral for debts owed. Head down, fully covered she embodies the fear and submissiveness. Whereas Halajan, a sixty-year-old who has lived through Taliban reign, freedom and then the Taliban re-emerging embodies the resilience of Afghanistan. With her hair cut short and a secret miniskirt under her burqa she is the spirit of those who chose to fight back. Together these two women teach each other about what is perceived to be traditional versus the morality of actions. Both the teachers and both the students. They are Kabul.
This embodiment of what it is to be an Afghan woman in a country that is constantly changing and finds itself in the heart of a war is balanced by the appearance of the three Westerners. Two Americans and one Brit. Each of them holds a place in this novel so well. Sunny, the sturdy and emotional and sometimes over helpful Texan who owns and runs the little coffee shop explores the concept of life in Kabul. Her character seems so real which perhaps is because Rodriguez herself once owned and ran a coffee shop in Kabul before she had to flee. This link between author and character cannot be ignored. There is so much life to Sunny’s character and her strength is what really brings all these women together. Her like-ability and in some respects her naiveness at Kabul always being accepting of her is what maybe leads the book in the direction it takes. Sunny ‘s relationship with two handsome suitors is also a mass bonus in this book, especially for the chick-lit lovers that I know are out there.
Candace is almost Sunny’s counterpart when it comes to Americans. She’s wealthy, she’s loud and she’s just left her very rich husband for her Afghan lover, a strange and mysterious man named Wakil. Her job as a money raiser for his certain charities is what really catches you in this book, and Rodriguez does seem to be looking into what women would do to try and keep a man. Candace is a character who I struggled with, maybe because I feel as if I’ve known her type. However as the book evolves and more about Candace is revealed as well as her relationship with Wakil and the other women comes more to light you can’t help but like her.
For me though the stand-out character of this book was Isabel, described on the blurb as: “a determined journalist with a secret that might keep her from the biggest story of her life,” you can’t help but immediately be intrigued by her entrance. Isabel’s character, and perhaps I’ve read the book wrong really does end up bringing everybody together. Like a sort of glue she works this novel into its climax. Her secret which has to be discovered for yourself leads you to not only feel for the character of Isabel but also want to fight for her and her cause and in some respect leaves you feeling very protective of her.
This book as uplifting and wonderful as it is, is not all peaches and cream. Without realising it, Rodriguez brings the reader to a position where they have to decide what they believe and, more importantly it makes the reader question all their judgements. For a book that qualifies itself as a chick-lit, aimed more towards women then men book, I think it deserves praise just for this. So far I’ve never read a chick-lit book that can have me laughing on one page and questioning how I could have done so on the next.
This book though an easy read, is a hard story to forget.
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