Knowing how much I adored The Kite Runner my lovely husband chose The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul for me as a Christmas present as it is compared with Hosseini’s masterpiece on the cover. Unfortunately, he didn’t realise that what the caption actually says is “As if Maeve Binchy had written the Kite Runner”. So I approached this cautiously, it screams “Chick-Lit” but it is set in contemporary Afghanistan. Interesting mixture!
The central character of the novel is Sunny, a native of the American South who has found herself in Afghanistan running the eponymous coffee shop and having to deal with all the issues that throws up, particularly security with a spate of recent bomb attacks. She takes in Yazmina, who is pregnant with her dead husband’s child and had been sold to traffickers to pay her uncle’s debt but they threw her onto the streets when her condition was discovered. As it is shameful in this society to be an unmarried mother she has to keep her baby secret. The other main characters are; Halajan, a widowed older woman who owns the building and privately rails against the conservative regime and hankers after the liberal years of her youth, pre-Taliban, so she can publicly have a relationship with the man she has always loved; Ahmet, Halajan’s conservative son who, in spite of himself, falls in love with Yazmina; Candace, a brash American who has left her husband for a mysterious wealthy Afghan who runs a school for orphans and wants her money for his cause; Isabel, a British journalist; and Jack, an American security expert who, quite obviously, has feelings for Sunny. Not an awful lot happens apart from revealing these characters stories and following Sunny as she tries to drum up more custom for her cafe in order to have the money to build a better security wall and struggles with her feelings for her on-off boyfriend Tommy compared to the sensible, older Jack. There is some insight into life for women in Afghanistan and the struggle between liberal and conservative Islam, but as you might expect for what is essentially chick-lit, it is dealt with rather superficially.
It is a very easy read and the author, Deborah Rodriguez, has lived and run a cafe in Kabul herself so you can have some confidence that she probably knows what she is writing about. However, you do feel constantly that it is written from a Western perspective and that all the characters, Western and Afghan, men and women, are incredibly stereotypical.
In short, it won’t challenge you but if you like your chick-lit with a social conscience then this isn’t a bad effort!