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The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul    by Deborah Rodriguez order for
Little Coffee Shop of Kabul
by Deborah Rodriguez
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2012 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez was originally published as A Cup of Friendship. It's set in Afghanistan where Sunny (an American from Arkansas) runs the Kabul Coffee House, whose regulars are 'misfits, missionaries and mercenaries, Afghans and foreigners.'

How did she end up there, you wonder, after 'a lifetime of hard luck and bad choices'? Sunny came to the country with Tommy, her friend and lover. But he's away for long periods of time, having taken contract work, training the Afghan military and as a sniper. Now Sunny runs the café with help from right-hand man/barista Bashir Hadi and Ahmet, the café's guard. Ahmet's mother Halajan owns the building and keeps a secret from her son, a 'serious traditionalist'.

But this is not only Sunny's story. It's also that of Yazmina. She and her sister Layla live with their uncle in Nuristan. Yazmina's husband died three months before and she's pregnant with his child. But her uncle, in debt after sheltering them, is forced to sell her. When the men who take her discover her pregnancy, they toss her out of their car into the streets of Kabul.

Sunny meets Yazmina at the Women's Ministry and offers her a room and work. At first she doesn't know that Yazmina is pregnant, but eventually that fact comes to light and complicates life for everyone. Yazmina is desperately worried that the men who took her will go back for her younger sister Layla. Sunny wants to help her and enlists others to her cause.

They include Tommy; Jack (a married café regular, 'a consultant for rural development' who has caught Sunny's eye); wealthy Candace who was conned into fundraising for Wakil's orphanage; and Isabel, a smart freelance journalist from London. As tension and violence in the country escalate, threads of romance run through the story and there is tragedy as well.

Deborah Rodriguez herself worked in Kabul (her time there described in Kabul Beauty School) and co-owned the Cabul Coffee House, so she writes of what she knows. This fictional work, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul is a feel good novel that combines romance with social commentary, and takes us into a country that has suffered a lot, and continues to do so.

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