So, I literally judged this book by its cover. I’ve done it before and it worked in my favour. This was another one of those serendipitous moments with a little added twist!
Stupidly, I did not make the link between “Kabul” and the horrors of Afghanistan. It’s far too easy for us westerners to distance ourselves from the devastation over there and I will be the first to admit that this incident was a fine case of that sort of ignorance – I do tend to block it out whilst watching the news, it makes me far too sad. However, despite my initial shock that this wasn’t a pretty little book about a little coffee shop, in a little town (I blame the adorable title and cartoon-like doodle!) I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
It switches from character to character – with the effect of Vantage Point – in order to give many sides to one issue and bring the book to a personal level for each of the women, all facing the day-to-day tragedies of modern women in a backwards society.
The coffee shop, close to the chickenless Chicken Street, is the social platform for all the tragedies to come together, for all the drama to unfold and the little happiness they share to be celebrated. Hiding wine in teapots and hosting feminist speeches in a shop owned by an American proves to be tricky work! Yet somehow it protects these women, it shelters them from the horrors outside and, most importantly, gives them freedom in a world where liberty is scarce.
From female prisons to a make-shift maternity ward, this book hosts some of the most dramatic settings Kabul has to offer – all the while perfectly balancing the reality of the tragic lives of those who occupy Kabul with the humour of a modernist old woman fighting a traditional pregnant widow, interspersed with a western woman in the middle of a love-triangle in which she is somehow still so lonely.
Rodriguez has captured in this novel an element of her life she thought valuable to share. I’m so glad she did. Although dramatized in parts, of course, it’s humbling to know that the stories she shares in this book are inspired by real-life cases of women in jeopardy. As I have said, it is easy for us to ignore the crisis of countries so different from our own, so easy for us to brush over the horror of mass-suffering. This book allows you to see into that world from the perspectives of locals (both old-fashioned and rebellious), an American trying to hold a succesful business in such turbulent surroundings, a British journalist, and a rich woman trying to show off to her new Afghan lover.
Despite its downs being plentiful, Rodriguez has ensured this novel is not aggressivly heart-wrenching. The devastating drama is soon uplifted by the smaller things in life making you smile.
I would recommend this book to anybody who loves to delve right into a character’s life and feel as though they know them, as much as you would a close friend, because this book does exactly that, five times over! This book has opened my eyes to a whole new genre of book which I never thought would grab my attention as much as it did, and completely incidentally too!
This story is one that will stay with me, I learned a lot from this book and I hope you do too.