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A Cup of Friendship- review

February 5, 2011

A Cup Of Friendship
Deborah Rodriguez
Random House January 2011
$25.00 304 pages
Thanks to Sharon Propson of Random House, for sending me a copy.

I was about halfway through A Cup of Friendship before I realized I loved it. And a few pages later, I figured out it was the kind of book designed for me to love. An interesting ensemble cast, clearly joined by love and mutual respect. They have flaws, and they can be uptight, prickly and scared, as well as warm and funny. It’s a romance on many levels- and none of them the spellbound instant kind.

Sunny is an American expat who runs a coffee shop in Kabul. I’m not 100% clear on why and how she decided to go to Kabul in the first place. I think I missed that detail while her current life  and friends and the plot of the novel itself had captured me. The cafe has regulars and staff, all of whom have become her close friends, her community. Halajan, the Afghan woman who wears a denim skirt under her chador as a way of connecting to the pre-Taliban life she remembers. Ahmet, Halajan’s uptight traditional Muslim son. Tommy, Sunny’s boyfriend, who disappears to go do dangerous mercenary things for months at a time. Yazmina, widowed, pregnant and very scared for her own life. Sunny basically rescues her, by giving her a home and work through the cafe.

More than one romance develops across the novel’s timeline. Some ensemble romances, you have one or two characters who are the focal romance throughout. Here, it’s evenly handled, and woven so thoroughly into the story of the coffee shop and Kabul, that the story stays balanced. There were a few moments where I sighed, and held the open book across my chest, at a deeply felt moment. There are so many Romance Novels that get almost brash in their pursuit of the perfect love story for the couple, that I appreciate what’s done here, an integrated, slowly developing affection. Another interesting love to read about was the love between friends. Cafe staff and regulars, the small community Sunny and friends have made for themselves in Kabul, playing out their friendships and their differences.

Because Kabul and its cultures are described with such matter-of-fact clarity, shaping characters and their lives, the city is almost a character in its own right in this ensemble novel. Kabul feels romanced, but not romanticized. The people of Sunny’s world love the city and its past, fear for its future, and accept its realities. Violence and bombings and hardships are part of the cultural equations… but never feel sensationalized. Which shows the author’s deft touch.

About midway through reading this, I started to feel like it was a spiritual cousin to some of the other books I love to reread. Ensemble casts of characters I wish I could meet, centered around a dynamic female presence. Matter of fact love and humor. Great food and place writing.

    Comfort Food- Kate Jacobs

    The School of Essential Ingredients- Erica Bauermeister

    My Most Excellent Year- Steve Kluger

For every book I read in 2011, I’m donating $1 to the New York Public Library. Donate now to help them keep me in books!

2 Comments leave one →
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  1. Kabul Beauty School « Elizabeth Willse: Freelance Writer

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