I’ve been waiting to read Marjan Kamali’s new novel ever since she appeared on a Monitor panel at the Boston Book Festival. What hooked me was the following passage, which she said she almost cut from her first novel, “Together Tea”:
“She knew how to swing her legs on that hyphen that defined and denied who she was: Iranian-American. Neither the first word nor the second really belonged to her. Her place was on the hyphen. ... On the hyphen she would sit, and on the hyphen she would stand, and soon, like a seasoned acrobat, she would balance there perfectly, never falling, never choosing either side over the other, content with walking that thin line.”
“The Stationery Shop” is a wistful look at two idealists and the world they should have inherited. Reading it this summer is an experience filled with echoes, as tensions between her characters’ homeland and their adopted country ratchet ever higher.
The bittersweet love story takes place in Iran in 1953, when a U.S.-backed coup replaced a democratically elected government with the authoritarian shah. In a Tehran bookstore, a girl named Roya falls in love with a boy named Bahman at a time when hope felt logical and the future seemed ripe with possibility. After the twin catastrophes of political violence and Bahman’s mother, the two are separated, and Roya leaves for the United States and the promise of education.
In 2013, the two meet again in another bookstore in the U.S. As they fill in the pieces of what happened, Kamali offers a paean not just to lost love, but to the poetry, food, and culture that fed their memories for 60 years.