Novel: The Stationery Shop
Author: Marjan Kamali
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Gallery Books
Publishing Date: 06.18.19
Genre: Cultural Heritage Fiction > Women’s Domestic Fiction > Family Life Fiction
Page Count: 320 Pages
My Rating: 4 Stars
Bio of (From Author’s Website):
Marjan Kamali, born in Turkey to Iranian parents, spent her childhood in Kenya, Germany, Turkey, Iran, and the United States. She studied English Literature at UC Berkeley and received her MBA from Columbia University and her MFA from New York University. Her work has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in two anthologies: Tremors and Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been. An excerpt from The Stationery Shop was published in Solstice Literary Magazine and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Her debut novel Together Tea was a Massachusetts Book Award Finalist, an NPR WBUR Good Read, and a Target Emerging Author Selection. Together Tea has been translated into German, Italian, Norwegian, Czech and Slovak and was recently adapted for the stage.
Marjan teaches writing at GrubStreet in Boston. She lives with her husband and two children in the Boston area.
Book Description (From Author’s Website): A powerful love story exploring loss, reconciliation, and the quirks of fate.
Roya is a dreamy, idealistic teenager living in 1953 Tehran who, amidst the political upheaval of the time, finds a literary oasis in kindly Mr. Fakhri’s neighborhood book and stationery shop. She always feels safe in his dusty store, overflowing with fountain pens, shiny ink bottles, and thick pads of soft writing paper.
When Mr. Fakhri, with a keen instinct for a budding romance, introduces Roya to his other favorite customer—handsome Bahman, who has a burning passion for justice and a love for Rumi’s poetry—she loses her heart at once. And, as their romance blossoms, the modest little stationery shop remains their favorite place in all of Tehran.
A few short months later, 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 forever changes their country’s future. In the chaos, Bahman never shows. For weeks, Roya tries desperately to contact him, but her efforts are fruitless. With a sorrowful heart, she resigns herself to never seeing him again.
Until, more than sixty years later, an accident of fate leads her back to Bahman and offers her a chance to ask him the questions that have haunted her for more than half a century: Why did he leave? Where did he go? How was he able to forget her?
The Stationery Shop is a beautiful and timely exploration of devastating loss, unbreakable family bonds, and the overwhelming power of love.
Other Books by Marjan Kamali:
In Together Tea, Marjan Kamali’s delightful and heartwarming debut novel, Darya has discovered the perfect gift for her daughter’s twenty-fifth birthday: an ideal husband. Mina, however, is fed up with her mother’s years of endless matchmaking and the spreadsheets grading available Iranian-American bachelors. Having spent her childhood in Tehran and the rest of her life in New York City, Mina has experienced cultural clashes firsthand, but she’s learning that the greatest clashes sometimes happen at home.
After a last ill-fated attempt at matchmaking, mother and daughter embark on a return journey to Iran. Immersed once again in Persian culture, the two women gradually begin to understand each other. But when Mina falls for a young man who never appeared on her mother’s matchmaking radar, will Mina and Darya’s new-found appreciation for each other survive?
Together Teais a moving and joyous debut novel about family, love, and finding the place you truly belong.
Marjan Kamali is no novice to writing fiction, as we learn from Kamali’s bio. Her debut novel Together Tea won multiple awards, was translated into five additional languages and has been adapted for the stage. You can’t dispute how impressive this alone is, which speaks volumes to Marjan Kamali’s proven writing talent. In full disclosure, I have not read Together Tea, but I will as time permits to compare her writing style between her debut novel Together Tea and The Stationery Shop.
The writing in The Stationery Shop is some of the best, and the story is an emotional and heartfelt story. Kamali mastered her setting throughout her novel while incorporating historical events that were a treat. There was never any question regarding Kamali’s setting. She also did a phenonenon job beginning her story and building up to the story’s conflicts as well as its turning points. Likewise, Kamali did exceptionally well in delivering a surprising resolution. Kamali’s story could just as well been one of non-fiction. She wrote a beautiful and believable novel, a novel that is relatable to life.
However, I believe The Stationery Shop could have been a superb novel had there not been so many distracters in her story. Kamali’s character development was not consistent throughout the book. Many characters were flat and lacked development. There were also the significant gaps of space that is lost intermittently throughout the book that left me wondering what had happened, and asking myself, “Where’s the rest of the story?” One example is when Roya is studying for her final chemistry exam three days before the exam. She did not believe she would pass the exam. I can’t tell if she passed her chemistry exam or not because one-two years later she is cooking for Walter. The gap was noticable and was one of several.
The diction and its continual repetition disturbed me the most. It begins in Tehran and continues throughout the novel. We are talking about a story that starts in 1952-1953 Tehran, Iran. I don’t know how many times I read, “Our fate written on our forehead when we’re born. It can’t be seen, can’t be read, but it’s there in invisible ink all right, and life follows fate. No matter what.” One use of the phrase would have been enough. It’s a memorable phrase. Another phrase repeated over and over again was, “That Tehran boy, the boy who would change the world.” I must have read this phrase at least ten times, if not more. It was just too much-wasted space. And other phrases that I found unbelievable that were also overly repetitive in which I seriously doubt were phrases that were ever used in Tehran by Iranians, such as “Okey-Dokey,” “Easy-Peasy,” et cetera. Nor did the diction of Walter work for me. Walter was from Boston, a UC Berkely student who wore blue blazers and wool slacks. Kamali did not sell me on his diction, and I believe it would have flowed better had she shown him as more articulate than she did.
To be clear, I enjoyed The Stationery Shop. Once I began reading the book, I did not put it down. I should have written my review two weeks ago, but I struggled knowing I would have to write an honest review and address the very things within The Stationery Shop that took away from an incredible story. I absolutely recommend this book, which would have been a 5 Star review had the editing process caught the very things that distracted me.
Thank you to Gallery Books Publishers, NetGalley, and Marjan Kamali for the opportunity to read and review The Stationery Shop.