My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was recommended to me by a dear friend and, despite mixed reviews, I came to thoroughly enjoy it. While a bit of a lighter read than I initially anticipated, for a novel set during the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s capital, it was easy to love and full of interesting characters.
The book is centred on a western café in the centre of Kabul, and the lives of the people who find solace within its walls, told from the perspectives of five central women. Sunny is the American expat owner of the shop, who ran away from the US looking for adventure and a sense of purpose for her life. Halajan is an older Afghani woman, yearning for those pre-Taliban days and hiding secrets from her strictly traditional son. Yazmina is a young widow stolen away from her home after her uncle could not repay a debt, she is to be a prostitute until it is discovered her carries her dead husband’s child and is dumped on the street. Candace is a wealthy American divorcee, good at convincing people to part with their cash for noble causes. And Isabel, is a determined British journalist, with a chequered past and a passion for justice. Each woman is fighting her own battle and hoping to save someone. Rodriguez did well to give each character depth and warmth, in some capacity you are hoping for the best for each character. While the secondary characters lacked somewhat, their presence was interesting. I wanted to know more, hear more from each person, and find out why they were who they were.
The plot was a little predictable, especially for Sunny’s story, but I was still happy when things ended up the way they did for her. The weaving together of the stories of the women was sometimes a little forced and implausible, but it was still an engaging read. It was emotionally charged, at times the emotions of one character or another were cut short, or overlooked, due to the cutting between all the perspectives. There were some surprises too, which was nice.
There have comparisons been drawn between Rodriguez and Khaled Hosseini, which I don’t really understand. Yes, they both write about Afghanistan, but that’s about the extent of similarities. While it’s clear that Rodriguez has lived in Kabul and enjoyed her time – it’s equally evident that she was a foreigner. No matter how long she stayed in Afghanistan, she would have always viewed it through a different lens than Hosseini.
Overall though, I recommend this book to anyone looking for a light and enjoyable read, or possibly a (very) gentle introduction into Afghani culture. I am very much looking forward to picking up the sequel.