I have been greeted by the beautiful cover of the book, “The little coffee of Kabul” many-a-times on Amazon and it was the tagline of the book that made me buy the book. It says “one little café, five extraordinary women!” Women, café, and Kabul, it made for a theme that I would love to savor any day. I ordered the book and started right away as soon as it was delivered. There are stories of five different women whose lives come at crossroads at one café in the beautiful yet dangerous city of Kabul. Life in Kabul is tough and in the rest of Afghanistan is even tougher.
About the author
Deborah Rodriguez is a hairdresser, a motivational speaker, and the author of the bestselling memoir Kabul Beauty School. She spent five years teaching at and later directing the Kabul Beauty School, the first modern beauty academy and training salon in Afghanistan. Rodriguez also owned the Oasis Salon and the Cabul Coffee House. She currently lives in Mexico.
Premise of the book: Meet the five women
The story starts with Yazmina in Nuristan, a secluded area in Afghanistan who is carrying a baby of her husband, who died in an accident. Her uncle is the protector of Yazmina and her younger sister, Layla but he has a loan on his head. The lenders take Yazmina away in lieu of money and plan to sell her off in the streets of Kabul. After knowing that she is pregnant, they drop her off on the streets and she luckily meets Sunny who runs the café. Yazmina finds a home in Sunny’s café and she chooses to hide the baby as it might put her and her child’s life in danger.
Sunny is an American who has left everything in the states to lead a new life, away from the chaos of states to even more turbulent and violent streets of Kabul. She runs the café with all her zeal and does every attempt to keep it alive. But it’s Kabul, things can get pretty bad or very well in a very short span of time. She has to keep the security tight in her café so that nobody can harm her customer. Then comes Halajan!
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Halajan is a woman we all wished older women in our family were like. She has a secret affair with Rashid after her husband dies. Her son does not approve of it, he is orthodox and goes by the rules of Mohammad.
“And according to tradition, which her proud son took so seriously, feelings had no place when it came to a man and a woman. All that mattered were correct introductions and managed courtships, under the unspoken social rules that squeezed the life out of life.”As quoted from The little coffee shop of Kabul
She smokes carelessly, has cut her hair short, sent her daughter to Germany, and is everything a rebel woman dreams to be. She is very protective of Yazmina and her child. On one end, she is revolutionary, yet she is scared that her child won’t be able to survive in Kabul.
The next woman we meet is Isabel, a BBC journalist who is in Kabul to investigate the drug lords that make Afghanistan so infamous. There have been orders to spray chemicals on the opium farms which would destroy other crops as well. When she reaches out to the drug lords and has a conversation with them, she comes to know that opium forms a substantial portion of their earning. What she witnesses there is shocking:
“The distinct smell of opium- sweet, rich, intoxicating- wafted out through the open wedges of space. She saw a woman in the corner, holding a baby wrapped in worn brown blankets. Each time the mother exhaled; she blew the smoke directly into baby’s face. The baby was silent. No crying, no screaming for a breast.”As quoted from “The little coffee shop of Kabul”
The fifth woman is Candace whom I didn’t like much. Maybe her character is meant to be like that. She is a fund-raiser and has many connections with the world of donors. A handsome Afghan, Wakil lures her to raise funds for his schools where he trains boys to become better in medicine. His intentions are dubious which are later revealed by Isabel.
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As the story progresses
Halajan’s lover, Rashid meet her once a week when she comes to market and writes a letter for her. He stealthily sneaks the letter to her so that nobody else can see. He writes letters for six years continuously yet he never receives a reply from Halajan and it concerns him. Halajan asks Yazmina to read the letters.
“Was it possible? Yazmina understood now. Halajan couldn’t read! And therefore, how had she read Rashif’s dear letters? Had she been able to ask someone to read them to her? Or had she never read even one because of the risk of shame she’d have brought to her family by acknowledging that the letters even existed.”As quoted from “The little coffee shop of Kabul”
Isabel digs deeper into the world, a mess that these drug-lords have created:
“Now Isabel had a story to write. It wasn’t about poppies or spraying or the collusion of the government and drug lords, or the corruption of drug enforcement officials, or the billions of dollars made in opium production. The story was about the women held for years behind the bars for refusing sex, for being victims of rape or of abusive husbands, or for becoming opium addicts. It was a story about the children being raised behind bars with them. The story was summed up in one young woman’s three simple words: Please help me”As quoted from “The little coffee shop of Kabul”
Sunny is concerned about increasing the height of her cafe’s walls so that UN can certify her cafe as safe and she can earn more customers. Before that, she needs to chip in more money and that means more work. Yazmina cannot hide the pregnancy for long as her baby bump is visible. Halajan can’t seem to find a way to convince her son to accept her and Rashid’s relationship. Isabel is entwined with the women who have become victims of greed of the drug-lords.
How do these women find their ways out?
The narrative of the book simply flows and there is an elaborate discussion on every character, where they come from which gives you enough space to absorb the characters and feel them. The many shades, worries, smiles of women have been meticulously written. The ending was good but something felt a bit off. Things became too rosy which quite isn’t the case in real-life, especially in the streets of Kabul, and there some dramatic events. Overall, it was a good read with some light-hearted and some introspective moments.
I recently came to know that the book also has a sequel! I might read it very soon 🙂