The biggest surprise about The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – and its newly-released sequel – is that it is a work of fiction. It felt so real I genuinely thought it was biographical!
Author Deborah Rodriguez once served as a humanitarian worker in Afghanistan, and it shows. Her voice is extremely authentic, and her stories told from her own experiences.
As far as it is possible for a person of one culture to understand another so very different from her own, Deborah tries to understand Afghanistan. She doesn’t judge; she reports with empathy. Her stories are warm, human and told with a minimum of “derring-do”.
It took me some time to come around to this series. The original Little Coffee Shop of Kabul has remained in my “To Read” pile since it was released – to enormous buzz – back in 2011.
As time passed and its reputation grew, I kept promising myself it would be the next book I would read. (You know how that goes, don’t you?) It took the release of a sequel for me to finally find out what I’d been missing.
The original novel explored the unlikely friendship of five unique women, all thrown together in one of the most dangerous places on earth. In some ways, these women could not be more different. In others, they are startlingly alike.
Without venturing into spoilers: the follow-up reunites these five core characters – Sunny, Yasmina, Halajan, Layla, and Candace. With Sunny now back in USA, the story is now set on two continents and is the richer for the split locations.
While there are male characters, this is, at its core, a story about women: the challenges they face, and the bond that can form between them.
Deborah Rodriguez doesn’t try to point you strongly in any direction; whether the reader likes or dislikes a character is up to them. Even those characters whose views may challenge yours are not written with black hats; no-one is all good or all bad.
Despite the author’s evenhandedness, I can’t help but love Halajan, an older woman who has seen so many regimes come and go in her beloved country. Her subtle, sneaky, subversive actions are a delight.
While those familiar with the original book will get the richer reading experience, I found this novel refreshingly accessible to newcomers. I read Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul first and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are enough memory-joggers to let the new reader know what happened before, which Deborah Rodriguez cleverly incorporates without bogging down the new story. On finishing, I immediately went back to the original novel to see what I’d missed.
Both volumes have an extremely generous amount of supplemental material, with author Q&As, end notes, recipes, and even questions for book club discussions.
I found the author Q&As absolutely fascinating, and worthy of a book in itself. Deborah Rodriguez has such an interesting story to tell. The Little Coffee Shop stories are not those of her life, but are clearly influenced by her experiences. I find her a fascinating woman – watch this space for more about her.
As you may have guessed by now, I highly recommend both The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul and Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – this is a series that will both entertain and challenge you.
Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez (published by Penguin Random House) is available now from Dymocks.