Review: ‘Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul’ by Deborah Rodriguez

Perhaps not the most inspiring title for a sequel, but regardless I was eager to return to Kabul to fulfil my curiosity about culture and coffee simultaneously. I left, however, without coffee but with a greater understanding of how women are perceived in one of the world’s most prolific patriarchal societies – and it left both a bitter and inspiring taste in my mouth. Confusing, I know. Beware, spoilers ahead…

Let me start with the newbies. Layla and Kat’s parallel journeys in finding out about new cultures, whether the ones they deliberately ignored or the ones they are having to try and fathom despite their differences, was one of the more interesting sections of the book. Although sometimes clumsily put (teenage dialogue is perhaps not the books forte), Kat’s experiences of Afghani culture were perhaps akin to what is picked up on by the Western media, but Layla’s love of her culture balanced this out superbly. It wasn’t a one-woman vitriolic rant, but a two-pronged perspective on something we think we know but actually realise, through Layla, we cannot understand, because like Kat, we find it difficult to see past our initial perceptions. And like Kat by the end, we find ourselves re-evaluating what we think we know and what we feel.

 

Perhaps less inspiring was Sunny’s journey. The decision to kill Jack off between books was a brave one, but not one I feel worked. Sunny’s constant ‘I want to leave the island but oh no I’m stuck here again and say what it’s been months’ sometimes grated. The sub-plot with Rick was pretty hilarious, and the ending set a romanticised tone for the coffee shop’s latest venture, but the opening of Sunny’s narrative was, in places, repetitive. Grief has been done so well in so many books that this wasn’t the best portrayal, but the outcomes of it were perhaps more emotionally profitable.

 

But the main thrill in the whole book came from life in the coffee shop – it’s what we’d all come back for, and it’s what I came away loving still. The aroma of change and the growth of each person under one tiny roof was a joy to read, and much like Rumi, you come away feeling older and wiser in your perception, this time, of female rights in a country torn apart by terror and twisted ideologies. From Halajan’s driving to Zara’s marriage, and right back to Ahmet slowly but surely realising the old world order needs to evolve – each character gives both bright and frightening insights into a culture full of love, potential and often happiness, but marred by those few who take power through fear-mongering. It shows hope amongst ashes, and is a beautiful representation of a culture not filled with terror, but filled with so much to learn from and so much potential.

 

The return was worth the read, and as our return outdoes the length of Sunny’s it is a satisfying jaunt down memory lane, and looking at how the past has developed to present the watery sunshine of the future on the horizon.

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