They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Marjan Kamali’s The Stationery Shop, the stunning package was quick to catch my eye, so I did! Fortunately, the jacket ably represents the beautiful story within—a star-crossed love story set against the backdrop of the Iranian revolution in 1953, with a present-day framing narrative that’s as moving as the romance. It’s the perfect read for fans of The Kite Runner or The Beekeeper of Aleppo, but the emotional heart of this novel will satisfy readers who loved more contemporary stories like Ask Again, Yes or The Dearly Beloved.
The stationery shop of the title is more than just a store for paper and books—it’s the literary hub of the neighborhood, run by the kindly Mr. Fakhri. He keeps an eye out for his special customers, customers who include Roya, a teenaged girl who loves spending time browsing the shelves, and Bahman, a handsome young activist with a taste for Rumi’s poetry. Roya and Bahman soon fall for one another, and as their relationship deepens, Mr. Fakhri helps them communicate in secret, all while tensions throughout Tehran are bubbling to the surface.
Roya and Bahman pledge to run away together and plan to meet at the town square—but on the day of their meeting, the city erupts in violence, and Roya can’t find Bahman. In the weeks that follow, Roya writes him letters, leaves word with Mr. Fakhri, and looks everywhere, but to no avail—Bahman is gone. Eventually, Roya moves on with her life, a journey that takes her from Iran to the U.S. and a comfortable new existence in a Boston suburb…until a chance meeting, sixty years later, throws everything she thought she knew into turmoil. This novel, by the author of Together Tea, ticks so many boxes for me right now: It’s a passionate but bittersweet love story, a dual-timeline historical novel that taught me new things, and the unusual-to-me setting is beautifully observed by an author who brings her own cultural experience to bear in the telling. The “reveal” of why Bahman disappeared hurts in the best way, and you’ll be mulling over the book’s events long after you’ve finished, imagining what could have been if only a single moment had gone differently. Don’t pick this one up when you’re in a hurry—give yourself the time and space to savor the world-building here (especially the descriptions of amazing Persian food!) and really luxuriate in the emotional journey Kamali creates for the reader. You won’t be sorry!