“Why doesn’t his heart let go? Why do some people stay lodged in our souls, stuck in our throats, imprinted in our minds?”
The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali had been trending on my time line for quite some time. So when I saw it on one of my book apps, I decided to give it a read. I would love to hear about your views on the book and my review, if you have read this book too.
Title: The Stationery Shop
Publisher: Gallery Books
Author: Marjan Kamali
Marjan Kamali is an Iranian-American writer who seems to have traveled the world from Turkey to Kenya, Germany, Iran and finally to the United States. She has written two books and both have been awarded with several accolades.
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The tale is set against the backdrop of the political coup that erupted in Tehran in 1953. The supporters of the Shah were against letting democracy reign in Iran and so it seemed were some of the foreign powers whose vested interests lay in the oil reserves of the country. Political activism ran amok in the city, patronized by many sympathizers who were only too willing to lend a helping hand.
Roya is a dreamy eyed teenager whose liberal minded parents encourage both their daughters to pursue higher education to become icons in their own right. Her younger sister Zari is enamored with the American film stars, fashion and hairstyles and is more outspoken of the two. She is also more social and forward thinking than Roya who prefers to go with the flow.
Roya’s greatest pleasure lies in reading poetry, especially by Rumi and spends her time (as often as she can) in Mr. Fakhri’s stationery shop. The fatherly shop owner is only too happy to encourage her love of reading and always discusses books with her, suggesting which one she should pick next. Its here that she bumps into the handsome Bahman Aslan who is on a mission to change the world with his ideology.
Nurtured by Mr Fakhri’s discretion, the two teenagers embark on a romance in the book stocked realms of the stationery shop that perhaps is found only in the books. Bahman’s mother is dead set against the match as she has someone else in mind for him. Undeterred, he keeps’ assuring Roya that things will work out once they get married.
“summer twilight that was so beautiful she ached. The sky was an eggplant purple, the clouds the color of bruises.”
One night the entire Aslan family disappears, leaving Roya wrought with fear for Bahman’s safety. Mr Fakhri agrees to ferry letters between the two lovers in secret but Bahman’s letters don’t tell Roya anything. Finally, in one letter he tells her to meet him and that they would elope.
Roya arrives at the agreed spot and while she is waiting a crowd starts to fill the market square. Soon the protest turns violent when the police start shooting at the mob. Mr Fakhri suddenly comes to the square and tries to take Roya away but is shot dead in the melee.
Grief stricken Roya returns home where a phone call from Bahman’s mother pulls the rug from under her feet. She assures Roya that they are all fine and preparing for the wedding as Bahman’s agreed on marrying the girl of her choice. Roya should move on with her life and forget him.
Heart broken Roya moves to California with Zari to enroll for higher education as was her father’s plan all along. While Zari takes to the life in US with gusto, Roya moves through it as if navigating her way underwater. Chance brings her close to Walter whom she marries and has a son with.
A few decades have passed and Roya is now 77 when she stumbles on a stationery shop that reminds her of home. Even more so when she discovers the owner is Iranian and turns out to be Bahman’s son. She learns that he is a resident in a senior citizen home nearby and on impulse goes to meet him. She wants to know why he had betrayed her.
Sixty years later Roya has her closure on a love that had never left her.
Lasting Impression on me:
The hype about this book and the cover are the two reasons why I ended up picking it for a read. The story begins in 2013 in New England, USA and then moves to the 1950’s Tehran in a flashback. While the first sentence hints of the reveal, it takes the entire book to arrive at it for the climax. Somehow I wasn’t very entranced by this.
There are several characters and their sub-plots in the story which are revealed later to explain their behavior and reason for being in the plot. I found this to be again very weak-the sequencing of the plots and the development of the characters through them! Case in point- Mrs Aslan and Mr Fakhri were kept largely in the background for most of the story only to burst out with a long lost connection.
Then there were some plots and characters that didn’t quite grip me. Roya and Zari’s move to the US and how they adjusted to life there. Roya getting married, having a miscarriage and going through a depressive phase was nowhere necessary to the story in my opinion. Her husband Walter is not fleshed out at all, merging him to the background throughout the tale.
Zari was never happy about Roya and Bahman’s alliance, convinced that he would hoodwink her. Why was she so convinced? What did she know that she wasn’t telling her sister? This was never made clear in the story.
The nurse at the senior center has a background story added in the narrative and she later befriends Roya briefly. But this character was like a firefly-barely emitting any light and disappearing before something could develop.
“The past was always there, lurking in the corners, winking at you when you thought you’d moved on, hanging on to your organs from the inside.”
Life as an immigrant is another motif in the tale but again I found the treatment quite dull. In fact just too many things in this tale didn’t satisfy the reader in me who was waiting for the penny to drop at many moments which didn’t materialize.
There were a few pluses to the story, one being the scenes of the traditional Iranian food being prepared and talked about. The love and detail about the food has so much depth and richness. Mental illness finds a brief mention in the story as a condition prevalent in one of the characters which I found to be very surprising. But all it does is explain the neurotic behavior of the character and not why its so.
The writing has strength and I have quoted from the text in this review. I think I will pick up another book by this author before I decide where to place her in my book shelf. Right now I am rating the book as a 3/5 stars. Though the tale was a comfortable read, it doesn’t stand out as anything extraordinary for me. There is almost a Bollywood drama to the plot narration which left me wanting for so much more. Pick it up if you are keen to read this book based on the hype surrounding it. But be prepared for its average-ness!!!
Enjoyed reading this review? Perhaps you would like to check out the one I did for One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi
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