Review: ‘The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul’ by Debbie Rodriguez

My knowledge of events in Kabul and Afghanistan as a whole is miserably limited – it’s one of those places I hear about on the news and half-tune into, without really understanding the country, culture or conflict within it.

As such, it was part-recommendation and part-cultural curiosity that led me to ‘The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul’, and in that respect it was an enlightening experience.

Although somewhat over-idealised in some senses (the search for Layla, Sunny and Jack’s will-they won’t-they, Ahmet’s u-turn…), it was a sweet and enjoyable experience – it felt like I’d spent an afternoon safe, warm and well-watered in Sunny’s cafe. Alongside the more complex plot details, which deal with terrorism and national security in times of crisis, there were lighter moments, with the two matching one another to provide a balanced and not overwhelming experience. In short, it meant you saw the terror of everyday life without being engulfed by it; the book is a window to an experience rather than a wave crashing over you.

I have to say my favourite character was probably the rebellious Halajan, a woman whose pride and love equalled one another, and whose personal tragedy regarding the letters was, to me, just as tragic as other plot elements – the suffering of an individual can often equal the suffering of many in how it cripples every aspect of life. Her movements between being bitingly sarcastic and an overbearing matriarch were well-crafted, building a character that is practically visible in real life; someone we all know who is brave inside and out at the expense of their own happiness at times.

It’s a story that reveals much about place, person and humanity; how we live, who we are, and how far our beliefs stretch in times of crisis and love. Whilst not in the devastating league of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ or ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ in terms of cultural dissection, it’s a charming exploration of life in troubled times defying the odds and managing to cast a glimmer of hope in the darkest of situations.

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