Top positive review
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Atmospheric and enjoyable story
on 5 January 2013
This book was first brought to my attention by a member of the Kindlers Club book club. I doubt I would have read the book had it not been selected as the December read.
The book tells the stories of a host of characters in Kabul, Afghanistan. The link amongst them all is the coffeehouse of the title. This is definitely a book focusing on the lives of women there, although there are several interesting male characters. I enjoyed reading about the different characters and wanted to see how their stories developed. I was largely satisfied by the plotlines for each of them, but not entirely so. The author intertwines the stories well but, for me, I found some plot developments too convenient and the odd character change a little too abrupt and unbelievable.
The ending will please readers who like everything resolved neatly, but it just didn't ring entirely true for me. I felt it ended leaving a sugary taste in my mouth - too sweet and schmaltzy and 'Hollywood' for my liking. The setting is Afghanistan, and while everything is not a happy ending (no spoilers here), we would surely expect some loose ends in reality.
I should stress that this didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book. I learnt a lot about Afghanistan and its culture. The writing was very atmospheric and I really felt the danger the Afghans must feel on a daily basis. What surprised me most about the book was that living in Afghanistan is not entirely the unpleasant experience you would expect. Of course it is unsafe, but there is beauty to be found in unexpected places and people there live with goals in life to change the place for the better. Some of the characters' efforts to change Afghanistan for the better were inspiring.
The book ends with snippets from the author's own life and experience, which is interesting, and some traditional Afghan recipes.
So, in summary, the book gave me a real flavour of a place and culture I had little knowledge of, and the characters I journeyed with were interesting and enjoyable. The only real let-down was the all too convenient execution of the plotlines which felt unrealistic.