Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Deborah Rodriguez, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

Urgh, this was a regrettable reading decision, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul is truly dreadful book. Predicable, poorly written and vaguely racist.

Also, according to Wikipedia (yeah, I know it's not the more reliable source) the author, Deborah Rodriguez, sounds like a shady character. Her first book, Kabul Beauty School,  allegedly endangered the lives of some of the women that worked at the school and was filled with inaccuracies.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, Deborah Rodriguez, review, book cover, hardback, teapot, flowers, Afghanistan

The Plot: Sunny, an American woman living in Kabul must find a way to make her coffee shop more profitable. Among her clientèle are Isabel, a British journalist in search of a story and a way to overcome past trauma, and Candace a wealthy American, who has come to Kabul to be with her Afghan lover. Working in the coffee house alongside Sunny, are Yasmin, a vulnerable pregnant woman, and Halajan who is both motherly and rebellious.  Trigger warning: violence, rape, substance abuse, racism.

So basically, the book is meant to be all about sisterhood, five very different women coming together in dangerous circumstances. The Afghan women are incredibly poorly written, particularity Yasmin, she is mainly used as a prop by Sunny, a plot device to show what a compassionate woman Sunny is, rather than a character in her own right. Both Halajan and Yasmin are comprised of clichés and are two dimensional.

I wonder how many Afghan friends Rodriguez actually had, because for someone who spent an extended period of time in Afghanistan, she seems to rely heavily on stereotypes and worn out tropes. Pretty much all the Afghan men in this book are warlords/drug barons/ financiers of terrorist training schools.

Plus, I'm not sure if Rodriquez has ever met a British person either, as Isabel is also hashed together out of stereotypes and misinformation. Apparently she speaks with a 'thick British accent' wtf is this? Britain is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, each with very unique accents, that can be further identified by region or county, there is not one homogeneous 'thick British accent'. Rodriquez is also labouring under the false impression that we attend segregated schools in Britain (erm, NO) and she even uses a racial slur (p***), which is offensive, and inaccurate- the majority of Brits do not use that word.

For a book about women, the female characters (foreign and Afghan)  are largely defined by their relationship to men, it really isn't about sisters doing it for themselves. Sunny's love triangle is massively dull, and I can see why Candace's boyfriend gets tired of her as she is spoilt and vapid. Yazmin's blossoming romance, is very lazy, of course she gets paired up with the only Afghan male that is close in age, and how brave! how noble! He can overlook that she has had a baby with another man.

(more angry ranting after the jump)

 One of the most uncomfortable parts of the book is when, Sunny revels she experienced domestic violence as a child and Isabel confesses she was raped. Rodriguez clearly imagines that she is writing a heart wrenching moment, but under her inept handling, these tragedies read like a game of one-upmanship.  

Sunny, Isabel and Candace, as well as Jack  (western male) are all suffering from an acute case of White Saviour Complex. What makes it even more frustrating is that Rodriguez even acknowledges the negative impact of outsider interference;
' "Change is right!" said Candace. "Come on, Bashir Hadi. Tell me you don't want your country to be more modern, more tolerant more-"
"Of course I do" he said "but change from the inside out. I want Afghans to change Afghanistan'"

I think Rodriquez expects the reader to be impressed by Sunny, Isabel and Candace, to support their do-gooding and not question how problematic western intervention has been in Afghanistan.

Do yourself a favour, and give this book a miss.



  1. Harsh but fair comments!

  2. Oh my God, YES! This review sums up my feelings on the book entirely - I felt vaguely soiled by the time I'd finished it...