The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
Published by Gallery Books on June 18th, 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
“You might think the world is complicated and full of lost souls, that people who’ve touched your life and disappeared will never be found, but in the end all of that can change.”
Honestly, look at that book cover! It’s gorgeous and I definitely picked it up because of it. Yup, I judged a book by its cover. And anyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with stationery. It’s the other thing I love to collect! So this book was destined to get into my hands.
In The Stationery Shop, Roya is an idealistic teenager living in Tehran in 1953 who, amidst the political upheaval of the time, finds a literary oasis in Mr. Fakhri’s neighbourhood book and stationery shop.
When Mr. Fakhri introduces Roya to his other favourite customer—Bahman, who has a burning passion for justice and a love for Rumi’s poetry— she loses her heart at once. As their romance blossoms, the modest little stationery shop remains their favourite place in the city.
On the eve of their marriage, Roya agrees to meet Bahman at the town square, but suddenly, violence erupts—a result of the coup d’etat that changes their country. In the chaos, Bahman never shows. Roya tries to contact him, but her efforts are fruitless. Until, more than sixty years later, fate leads her back to Bahman and she gets her change to ask him the questions that haunted her for more than half a century.
I was kind of disappointed by this book. It was marketed as a love story within a historical fiction novel. But I argue that it’s straight up romance.
I was looking forward to learning more about Iran’s history and the tumultuous period in that point of time. Unfortunately, we barely got any of that.
This love story isn’t anything new. We get to see two young people fall in love, and lose each other and have to rebuild lives without one another. And normally that would hook me!
I was just very distracted by some of the choices that the writer and the editors made. There was a ton of repetition in the first half of the book that felt completely unnecessary. There were so many references to how Zari sets her hair with newspaper strips. And the description of the body odors, soap smells, and cooking smells became redundant, too.
I love when authors set a scene by describing things in detail, but there comes a point where you have to stop! Especially when it’s the same description over and over again.
The thing I enjoyed the most was the epistolary aspect to the book. I did love seeing Roya and Bahman’s love story evolve through letters. You could really see how much they respected one another and how deeply caring they were toward each other.
The letters were wonderful to read, especially the last one. I was in tears near the end especially when Roya and Bahman had their reunion.
So mark me down as utterly confused when the explanation for the main conflict of the book came along. I won’t get into details about it to avoid spoilers, but I was shocked that Kamali decided to go that route. For that reason, I also couldn’t buy into the love story because it felt like the author invalidated a huge part of the relationship and the story because of this. The consistency, or lack thereof, was a bit maddening.
Ultimately, I think I would’ve liked this book more if I had gone in knowing it was a pure romance novel. I think I wouldn’t have been as bothered about the other stuff. But I will read Kamali’s work in the future because I think the concept was there, but the execution wasn’t.