Set in 1950’s Tehran and bookended with parts set in modern day America, this is a beautiful love story set in a time of political upheaval. Roya is a teenage girl who loves to step into the paper and pencil shaving secented world of the stationery and bookstore near her school. There she meets Bahman, a boy who wants to change the world. The two are immediately drawn to each other and know they are meant to be, but we, the reader, know that something tragically kept them apart. What was it? Did Bahman just forget about Roya or was there someone or something else that came between them? Through the intervening decades, Roya has never truly forgotten her first love, the one that left her standing alone in a square in the middle of a political uprising.
I was immediately drawn to this book because it had the word “stationery” in the title and a beautiful floral print cover. I knew nothing about Tehran in the 50’s and I don’t mind a decent romance, so I was in.
What I love about this book is that even though it has a romance at it’s heart, it’s more literary ficton. Kamali has a beautiful way with words, evoking scents, sensations and places so well. I liked slipping into the world of this book, spending time in a place and time different than my own. I really liked the way that politics played a part in this book, but wasn’t the main focus. I felt like I got an insight into what was going on, without it being preachy or overly expositional.
I loved the role that food and family played in this book too. Food and the dishes that we eat together become like a langauge that hold people together. When Roya is in America the food confuses her, sharing it draws her together with her future husband, it’s what makes her homesick. In Tehran, it is the flavour and scents of home and community, it’s what’s eaten in the head of the day, favorite dishes made for a loved one, food served to guests as an engagement tradition. It made me want to seek out eggplants and spices and head for the kitchen.
The role of family is also foregrounded in this story, the family of our origin and the family we make with our romantic partners, and how societal rulese dictate what this means and who we become, who we are allowed to love. There are happy couples in this book, like Roya’s parents, and couples where one person’s unhappiness dominates, where one partner must know that they are not the one their other half wants to be with.
I loved that I entered a world I knew nothing about and felt moved by the world I was shown. This book is full of sadness and yearning, and you’ll keep turning pages to find out what happened and why. I think this book will make some of you cry. I have to admit, I felt like a little bit of the ending left me a little annoyed by what characters got away with, I felt like some actions weren’t motivated by the side characters history, but on the whole, this is a really beautiful and passionate story. Well worth a read.
Read This If: you like a good love story but don’t love the romance genre. It’s not sugary or sweet, but it’s a great ride.
Thank you Simon and Schuster Canada for sending me an ARC copy of this book for review. This review is all my own honest and unbiased opinion.
The Stationery Shop is out on June 18 2009.