Sunday 23 February 2014


I am an insomniac. It drives my husband mad. He could win a gold medal for Spain if they ever made sleeping a sport at the Olympics. But not me: I'd flunk right out of there.

Last night was a bad one. I just couldn't get to sleep. I tossed. I turned. I managed to wake everyone else up by tripping over on my way downstairs to raid the fridge. Even the dog was fed up with me in the end. He went out for a comfort break somewhere after 3:00 a.m., and decided that he wasn't in any hurry to come back inside.  Of course it was blowing a gale, raining, pitch black with the moon hidden behind heavy clouds, but I had to go chasing after him in my pyjamas which did very little to help my going-to-sleep issue.

Anyway, after I dragged him back inside, I settled down to burn the midnight oil reading The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul. It's not normally the sort of thing I'd pick up, but I'd bought it because I'd enjoyed The Kite Runner, and this was described 'as if Maeve Binchy had written the Kite Runner'. As it turns out it's a lot more Maeve Binchy than Kite Runner.

It's a well-paced tale about Sunny from Arkansas who runs a coffee shop in Kabul. She's a feisty, likeable character, who meets up with a cast of other extraordinary women in the course of running her business. There's Yasmina, whom Sunny rescues, a young Afghan girl, who is destitute, pregnant and abandoned to her fate on the streets of the city after her husband dies. Then there's Halajan, a 67 year-old Afghan lady who remembers happier days when things were more relaxed, and who yearns to follow her heart and be with the man she would have married half a lifetime ago if she'd been given the choice as a young girl. Candace, a wealthy American divorcee, and Isabel, a British journalist, complete the group.

I must say that I found it hard to believe in either Candace or Isabel. Somehow the characterisation didn't quite work, and Candace especially didn't ring true as a real character. But, that aside in the small hours of the morning, when my grey cells were addled through lack of sleep,  I enjoyed the pace of the narrative, and the beautiful way in which the writer dealt with the setting. I felt that I was in the hands of a storyteller, who knew the country well. 

And it turns out that she does indeed know her stuff. Deborah Rodriquez arrived in Afghanistan in 2002, as a volunteer aid-worker. With her background in hairdressing she was enlisted to help setting up a beauty school for women amidst all the rubble and destruction. You can read about her here:

One of the things that surprised me about her account of life in Kabul was how people there were said to dislike dogs. I am very much of the 'man's best friend' school of thought on this point, but the Afghans are said to regard our canine friends with something bordering on disgust. Sandy, the lead character, is given the present of a retired drug dog to guard her car whilst she is out and about in the city. Tellingly Rodrigquez betrays her own sympathies on the issue by making Poppy, the drug dog, the only character in the book who is an infallible judge of people.

Anyway it's a good, light read if you're suffering the can't-go-to-sleep blues in the middle of the night.

All the best,

Bonny x

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