The Stationery Shop
This novel about bookish teenage lovers is literary Bollywood at its best...
Reading The Stationery Shop felt like drinking from a cupful of sadness, and perversely relishing it till the very last drop.
Marjan Kamali's second novel is a simple story about thwarted lovers, Roya and Bahman, tossed this way and that by the winds of change blowing through the turbulent Iran of the 1950s. The two young and exceptionally well-behaved, well-read teenagers fall in love while browsing through books at the neighbourhood stationery shop.
They reminded me of Hazel and Augustus in how well matched they were, and you already know from the blurb that there's a fault in their stars too.
Bahman is a political activist and Roya, a dreamy reader of poetry and quality fiction; their tender young love is nurtured and nursed by Ali Fakhri, the owner of the bookshop where their love blossoms.
There is political turmoil in the country and everyone's taking sides even as people go about their daily lives hoping for the best. But in the end all the characters you grow attached to get scattered in the storm and are never the same again. It's literary Bollywood at its best.
I am always struck by the many similarities in Asian societies and a lot of my pleasure in reading this book came from that connect - you too! me too! we too! There's so much that strikes a chord culturally that it's a wonder that we can't all live as one in Lennonly harmony.
Almost the whole book is told in flashback and while it is easy to see why Roya grows so comfortably into her serious skin, you do wish for occasional lightness to leaven the moment. This is a sorrowful, sorrowing, wrenching book. The grief keeps you on the brink of tears right through and that's the only reason I had to keep putting the book down.
At the end, the only thing that brought me any cheer was the idea of Kamali hunched over her laptop weeping as she typed out her story. We were sisters in misery.
Courtesy: THE HINDU