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The Stationery Shop

Review

The Stationery Shop

In 1953 Tehran, political tensions are roiling, and various visions of Iran’s future are clashing, often violently. For Roya, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, Iran is offering more and more possibilities for young women like her, who are educated and ambitious. When she meets the charming, handsome and politically active Bahman in their neighborhood stationery and book shop, she falls deeply in love. The two are from different backgrounds, and their own parents have different goals for them. Still, Roya and Bahman become engaged and are planning a wedding when the Coup happens, which destroys their plans of marriage and a progressive Iranian nation.

Marjan Kamali’s THE STATIONERY SHOP is primarily Roya’s story, moving through time and space from 1953 Iran to the contemporary United States, written with a brightness and beauty that balances out the realistic depictions of turmoil and loss.

"THE STATIONERY SHOP is a heartfelt and gently written novel, yet Kamali is unafraid to tackle big and difficult themes.... The gorgeous jacket art will catch the eye of potential readers, but once the spine is cracked, they will find a wonderful story inside."

Roya and Bahman fall in love in Mr. Fakhri’s stationery shop, amidst the volumes of Rumi. For Roya, the shop is a peaceful haven; for Bahman, it is a secret center for the distribution of political pamphlets. Mr. Fakhri warns Roya about Bahman, who he calls “the boy who would change the world.” But he also gives the two space to get to know each other. While Roya’s parents approve of Bahman and her marriage to him, Bahman’s mother is highly critical of Roya and her family, not to mention upset that Bahman broke off an earlier engagement to be with her. The romance seems strong, despite some challenges, which include family tensions, health issues and the couple’s young age.

When the political unrest amps up, Bahman disappears. Roya gets a few letters from him, and finally a request to meet him in the city square so they can get married sooner. The day of their wedding arrives, and Roya risks harm and witnesses devastating violence to meet Bahman. But he never shows up, and she never hears directly from him again.

Years go by, and Roya moves to the U.S., goes to college, marries an American and starts a family, but Bahman is never far from her mind. Kamali describes all of this, plus Roya’s adaptation to life in a new culture and the fallout from the coup in Iran. When Roya finally finds Bahman again, she has many questions to ask and much heartbreak to process. Readers are privy to more information than she is, which gives the book a compelling tension.

THE STATIONERY SHOP is a heartfelt and gently written novel, yet Kamali is unafraid to tackle big and difficult themes. Her descriptions of Iran and Persian culture are evocative and really come alive for readers. And her depiction of Roya’s life in the U.S. is insightful and honest. Kamali is honest, too, in her presentation of the various and complex difficulties her characters face. The book explores such themes as love and loyalty, grief and dreams, identity and politics, with a light-handedness that still honors its characters, their struggles and their triumphs. Kamali allows them slow and steady growth, and though they experience much, the focus remains on response over action, emotion over plot.

The gorgeous jacket art will catch the eye of potential readers, but once the spine is cracked, they will find a wonderful story inside.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 2, 2019

The Stationery Shop
by Marjan Kamali

  • Publication Date: June 18, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • ISBN-10: 1982107480
  • ISBN-13: 9781982107482