The Stationery Shop: A romance that defies separation and lasts for decades
The Stationery Shop, Marjan Kamali
Genre: General Fiction, Historical Romance
Published 2019, 320 pages
This novel is a romance set in Tehran in 1953 during the Iranian coup. While there is plenty of political and historical information, the story mainly focuses on the love between Roya and Bahman, and later Roya and her husband of 50 or so years, Walter. The marriage actually gets less focus in the story than Roya and Bahman’s love story. Unfortunately, the romance between Roya and Bahman does get repetitious in how it’s described and what they say to each other and how they’re feeling. I get it already, move on!
Roya meets Bahman, a whistling, energetic boy with plans, at a stationery shop run by Ali Fakhri (who plays a key role in several ways) who aids the two teenagers in their romance, allowing them small amounts of time alone in his shop, which would be frowned on by others. As their relationship deepens, they meet each other’s families. While Roya’s family accepts and welcomes Bahman (he shares Roya’s father’s political beliefs), Bahman’s mother, who has mental health issues, tries everything she can to keep them apart. Even so, Roya and Bahman plan to meet and marry secretly but something happens to prevent it, which isn't revealed until the end of the story. Brokenhearted, Roya agrees with her father’s plans to send her and her sister Zari to college in California.
Scattered throughout the story there are some yummy descriptions of various Persian foods that are served. There are details about the political unrest in the country and their town, including protests and violence on the streets.
At college Roya meets Walter and a romance slowly develops. They marry and have a child, but she still thinks of Bahman almost every day, missing him. Meanwhile, Bahman marries the girl his mother always wanted for him. He also has children but still thinks of Roya. I've had a relationship end that I didn't want to end and it hurt for a long while and I thought of him a lot. As time passed though, I found it hurt less and thinking of him tapered off, so this scenario is hard to imagine because it lasted for years and years for both Roya and Bahman, even through marriages and children.
“Why doesn’t his heart let go? Why do some people stay lodged in our souls, stuck in our throats, imprinted in our minds?”
Tragedy comes to Roya and Walter (possibly the most understanding, kind, mild husband in the world) which shatters them both but they overcome it and their love becomes stronger.
“Roya and Walter stayed that way – foreheads touching. Of his love she had never been more sure. For every ounce of grief that she had, Walter had the same. He had labored with her in this grief, felt his way through the darkness and the depth of it, and all the time as the world carried on, he was there by her side. Walter was always there. Reliable. Trustworthy. Steady. The love that she and Walter shared was a lifeline she did not want to do without.”
Sixty years after their romance in Tehran, unexpectedly Roya finds out that Bahman is not only now living in the U.S., but is only about an hour away from her! They reunite, talk, and finally discover who kept them apart and why all those years ago. Part love story, part history, part family drama, heartbreaking yet hopeful, this story covers a lot of ground. It surprised me that a teen love could endure for so many years when they weren't together for most of that time. Definitely a good read.
photo by GaelleMarcell via unsplash