I read these two books one after the other and both are set (or partly set) in Afghanistan, so I thought I’d review them both in one blog post. I read The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul for the category “Read a book with the name of a city, state or country in the title”, worth 20 points, and The Kite Runner for the category “Read a book that has been on your TBR list for 2+ years”, worth 10 points.
The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez
The plot: This is the story of a little coffee shop, run by an American expat, and all the people who work and gather there. It’s mostly the story of five women, Sunny – the owner of the café, Halajan – an Afghan woman who works for her and still remembers the days before the Taliban, Isabel – a British journalist on the trail of a risky story, Candace – a wealthy American whose desire to help (and desire for a man) threatens to cloud her good judgement and Yasmina – a young, pregnant woman stolen from her village and then abandoned on the streets, who Sunny takes in. As the group get to know each other, they discover there’s more to each of them than meets the eye and form an unlikely friendship that will change their lives forever. (According to the blurb, said friendship will also change Afghanistan forever but errm, I don’t think so!).
My review. First of all, I have to say this is basically chick lit! Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with chick lit, but if you were looking for a book that depicts the hardships of life in Afghanistan… this is not it! I mean, it does touch on those aspects (it’s pretty difficult to entirely ignore the fact that the plot takes place in the middle of a war zone!), but even when bad things happen, they never feel particularly shocking or devastating, and all the way through you just know things are going to work out in the end. Of course there’s a romance or two weaving through the plot, and in typical chick-lit fashion, everybody ends up with the right man for them. This is a quick read, perfect for a day at the beach or a rainy day stuck at home. Despite a few interesting elements that come about mainly thanks to the setting, it’s basically a mindless read for those days when you just don’t feel like taxing your brain. 3 stars.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The plot: This is the story of two boys growing up together in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. Amir is the spoiled son of a rich man, Hassan is the son of a loyal servant. Despite that, the two boys are best friends. The year the boys are 12, Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament, and Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can predict what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that will shatter their lives. later, after the Russians invade, Amir and his father flee to America, and Amir realises that one day he will have to return to Afghanistan to find the one thing his new life cannot grant him:redemption.
My review. This is a surprisingly easy read, in the sense that you can get through it fairly quickly, once you’ve got used to the author’s style of writing. But in terms of subject matter, it’s tough. There are a number graphic scenes of war and violence, including rape (so don’t read it if such things are likely to upset you!). I spent most of the book wanting to sake the narrator, Amir. He’s a spoiled, selfish daddy’s boy and a coward. Yes, he was a child during the main events of the book and can in no way be blamed for his cowardice, but even before that he was jealous, self-centred and spoiled. And even when he does the right thing in the end, I felt as if he was doing it more for the sake of purging his own feelings of guilt than for the right reasons, to save a child.He does redeem himself but I still don’t find him very likeable. Having said that, I did like the book. It’s very different to the kind of thing I normally read and, while disturbing at times, I think we all need to have our eyes opened about the things that go on in the world. However, I didn’t love the book like 99% of reviewers seem to have. 3 stars.
So there you have it. One location, two very different stories. I would say both are worth a read, depending on your own personal preferences, but I probably won’t read either of them a second time.