A Cup of Friendship is a new novel by Deborah Rodriguez, author of the memoir Kabul Beauty School. It will be published on January 25th. I received an advanced copy through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.
About the Book:
Sunny, an American, has built a life for herself in Afghanistan. She owns a successful coffeehouse in Kabul, and her friends and employees have become like family to her. Among them are Americans and Afghans as well as expats from other countries. With the coffeehouse at its center, daily life flows around Rodriguez’s characters. They love, they hate, they change and grow. They move out of Sunny’s life; they enter it again. The stories of each character come together with those of the others, woven tightly together through Sunny’s coffeehouse.
I realize my summary is a bit vague, but really, there are too many story lines to mention them all. There are at least eight characters who hold the focus for a chapter or more, each with his or her own worries and situations. The characters also represent different nationalities as well as different mindsets: there are more liberal Afghans as well as a traditionalist; there are two American men with very different views on their places in Afghanistan; there is a British journalist and a wealthy American divorcee. The result is a cross section of life in Kabul, with all kinds of people living side by side.
The only other novels set in Afghanistan I’ve read are Khaled Hosseini’s, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both of which focus primarily on Afghans. What I found more interesting about A Cup of Friendship was the wide variety of worldviews it brought together. At times, it felt a bit contrived; how convenient, I’d find myself thinking, that the coffeehouse’s staff and customers include one representative of each sort of person. But at the same time, I appreciated seeing the characters held up next to one another. With so many competing views, it was tough to pick sides and easy to see why life in a place like Kabul could quickly get complicated. Rodriguez’s approach also helped me understand the role foreigners play in Afghanistan, which parts of Afghan culture get misunderstood and why, and what life might be like for people of different backgrounds in a country torn by war and bound by tradition.
I listened to Rodriguez’s memoir, Kabul Beauty School, over a year ago, so I know she has spent time in Afghanistan and has experienced the people and culture firsthand. She also owned a coffee shop in Kabul, says her bio in the novel, as well as a salon. In her Acknowledgments at the end of A Cup of Friendship, Rodriguez mentions that, while her characters are fictitious, many of their stories were inspired by the stories of people she knew in Afghanistan. I appreciate knowing this, as it lends an air of authenticity to A Cup of Friendship.
The writing in this novel is not phenomenal, but it’s readable. The plot is maybe a little predictable, a bit cheesy in spots. But what I liked about A Cup of Friendship was the people, the worldviews, bumping up against one another in the fictional coffeehouse. I feel like I learned something from reading Rodriguez’s novel, and I appreciate that.
I did want to share with you what might be the loveliest sentiment for a funeral I’ve ever encountered. I won’t say a thing about the circumstances surrounding these words, only that they stood out to me. (Please note that I’m quoting here from an ARC, so the final, published version may differ.)
“Let us meditate on the meaning of love and loss, of life and death. The contemplation of death should plant within the soul elevation and peace. Above all, it should make us see things in their true light. Grief is a great teacher when it sends us back to serve and bless the living. Thus, even when they are gone, the departed are with us, moving us to live as they wished themselves to live.
[L]ife is finite. Like a candle, it burns; it glows with warmth and beauty. Then the flames fade, but we do not despair for we are more than a memory fading into darkness. With our lives we give life.” (ARC, p. 263)
If you enjoyed Kabul Beauty School, I think you’ll enjoy A Cup of Friendship as well. I’d also recommend this one for people who enjoy books focused on characters and who don’t mind turning a blind eye to the writing at times.
What books have you read that do an excellent job showing a slice of life or showcasing multiple worldviews?