The Stationary Shop of Tehran is the second novel by Turkish-born author, Marjan Kamali. In 1953, Tehran is full of political unrest, but seventeen-year-old Roya Kayhani isn’t interested in all that (she hears it from her father constantly). Roya just wants to read: Persian poetry, Rumi in particular, or translated novels, it doesn’t matter which. That’s why she’s a regular visitor to the Stationery Shop opposite her school. It’s a place to retreat to, a calm of quiet and learning; Mr Fakhri often has a volume of poetry all ready for her; she just loves the piles of writing tablets and pencils and fountain pens.
One Tuesday, while she’s idly perusing the shelves, a young man strides in whistling, collects some papers, rushes out again, but not before directing at her a dazzling smile and saying “I am fortunate to meet you.” Mr Fakhri tells her Bahman Aslan is “the boy who wants to change the world”. That (or perhaps Bahman?) should be approached with “vigilance” and “severe caution”. And yet, by the time they have met and chatted several Tuesdays in a row in his stationery shop, Mr Fakhri seems to need to check his inventory in the storeroom whenever they are there alone.
Walks and the Café Ghanadi and the cinema, and gatherings with her sister and their friends at home follow. Roya’s father approves of this passionate young man, because he too believes fervently in their Prime Minister, Mohammad Massadegh, and his vision for the country. Roya worries a little about Bahman’s overt activism, and the Shah’s police, but he assures her all will be well.
Soon they are engaged. Roya endures the nasty remarks and glares from her prospective mother-in-law. Life is wonderful and their future is bright. Then Bahman disappears without a word. Through Mr Fakhri, they communicate by long loving letters, but their arranged meeting goes badly awry. Was the destiny that her mother assured her was invisibly written on her forehead not to be with Bahman? It will be sixty years before they encounter one another again…
What a wonderful cast of characters Kamali gives the reader: some are easy to love and others require sympathy and patience. Their emotions and feelings, so well conveyed, are many: love (of course!), jealousy, grief and guilt, pride, ambition and greed, courage and cowardice all feature. The narrative is carried principally by Roya, but Bahman’s perspective is shown through letters he writes Roya, with Mr Fakhri’s contribution filling in some important background.
Kamali’s beautiful descriptive prose will easily evoke the fragrance of the Persian kitchen and that unique stationery shop smell. There are several incidents that will tug at the heart-strings so have the tissues ready. This is a beautiful book filled with lyrical prose and enclosed within a gorgeous cover. A wonderful read. This unbiased review is from a copy provided by Simon & Schuster Australia.