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Saturday, March 4, 2023

Book Review: The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

BOOK review
Started on: 4 January 2023
Finished on: 28 January 2023

Title: The Stationery Shop
Author: Marjan Kamali
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 312 pages / 322 pages (e-book)
Year of Publication: 2019
Price: Rp 262,000 (

Rating: 5/5
"We do not always get what we want, Roya Khanom. Things do not always work out the way we planned. Those who are young tend to think that life's tragedies and miseries and its bullets will somehow miss them. That they can buoy themselves with naïve hope and energy. They think, wrongly, that somehow youth or desire or even love can outmatch the hand of fate."
Roya is a teenager living in 1953 Tehran amidst the political upheaval of the time. She finds a literary oasis in Mr. Fakhri's stationery shop. In that place, she met Bahman, who has a burning passion for politics and wants to change the world. Within a short time, their romance blossomed in that stationery shop which became their favorite place in all of Tehran. Nearing their wedding day, the two agreed to meet at the town square when violence suddenly erupted—a result of the coup d’etat that forever changed Tehran's future. During all the chaos, Bahman never showed up. Roya desperately tried to contact him but her efforts were fruitless. With a sorrowful heart, she decided to move to a different country and gave up hope of seeing Bahman ever again. More than sixty years later, fate led her back to Bahman and gave her a chance to ask him the question that haunted her for decades.

"For years she thought that her biggest loss in life would be her first love. Or the stationer who had died at her feet. Little did she know that her future held a bigger loss: a loss that would make the summer of 1953 look like child's play."
I heard some recommendations on this book last year, so I chose it as my first read in 2023. Even though this is my first time reading a book by Marjan Kamali, I was immediately hooked from the very first chapter. The Stationery Shop was exactly what I was hoping for when I started reading it: a poignant love story between two teenagers that's beautifully written and mixed with bittersweet emotion. I was intrigued by the plot right from the start and enjoyed the whole story from beginning to end as the author slowly unfold the mystery. With several time jumps, the book gathers puzzle pieces that will finally make sense as we see the bigger picture at the end. It's truly a powerful story about love and loss set against the political upheaval in Tehran back in 1953.
"And she had to move. Some things stay with you, haunt you. Some embers nestle into your skin. Shots cannot be forgotten. And neither can that force of love."
"Why did he lie? Why did he leave her there? Why did he break it all off so abruptly? Why did he change his mind? She deserved that, at least, after all these years. Who knew when the heart could attack? Let her just know once and for all."
The first part starts in 2013, when our main character, Roya, is on her way to the Duxton Senior Center to meet Bahman Aslan. Seventy-seven-year-old Roya asked Bahman the question that has haunted her for decades, dying to know why Bahman didn't show up as they had promised years ago. In the next chapter, the story goes back to 1953 when Roya was still a teenager living with her family in Tehran. We followed her character as she first encountered Bahman in Mr. Fakhri's stationery shop and witnessed their romance bloom. Everything was going well with their relationship until Bahman suddenly disappeared and they could only communicate through letters delivered by Mr. Fakhri. On the day when the two agreed to meet at the town square, violence erupted due to the political upheaval that endangered everyone. No matter how long Roya waited, Bahman never showed up—leaving her devastated and heartbroken.

In the next part of the book, the story is set in 1916 and focuses on the life of Ali and Badri—whose teenage romance also blossomed and withered due to circumstances. I questioned the correlation between these characters and the previous ones until the author revealed who they actually were. This narrative from the past might seem insignificant at first but it's part of the bigger picture that will make sense in the end. I don't want to spoil the plot further, so I'll just say that The Stationery Shop is not just a story about young love. As we keep following Roya's journey through the years of her life, she faced cultural shame, gender inequality, loss, and grief. And even though decades have passed, deep inside her heart Roya still wants to know what actually happened to her relationship with Bahman in 1953. When fate allowed them to see each other once again, I was relieved she got the explanation that she needed to let things go. Even though it's not exactly a happy ending, I feel at peace with how the story ended.
"But the biggest loss for me? It was losing you. Nothing in my life has been more painful."
"I was supposed to be the "boy who would change the world." But life has a way of squashing dreams, plans, ideals."
I find it really interesting how we know that Roya and Bahman won't end up together since the beginning of this book. Seeing how much they love each other when they were teenagers made me so eager to find out what happened to Bahman and why he didn't keep his promise to Roya. I absolutely love how the fragments of stories slowly came together and connected all the dots at the end. Overall, Marjan Kamali's writing made this whole book very enjoyable to read. Although none of the characters felt special, I was emotionally invested in what they went through from start to finish. The pacing was just perfect for me, not too slow or too fast for my taste. I highly recommend this book for those who are looking for a literary fiction novel with a historical setting that's beautifully written. I will definitely check out Marjan Kamali's other works in the future 😊.
"She would not have understood, then, that time is not linear but circular. There is no past, present, future... The past was always there, lurking in the corners, winking at you when you thought you'd moved on, hanging on to your organs from the inside."
by.stefaniesugia♥ .

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