Friday, January 14, 2011

New Next Week: A Cup of Friendship by Deborah Rodriguez

While the tone of A Cup of Friendship (Ballantine) is slick and sleek, I liked the book far less than I anticipated I would. It’s taken me a while to figure out why.

Rodriguez’ debut work, her 2007 memoir Kabul Beauty School, was the author’s passionate recollections about her five years teaching at and directing the first contemporary beauty academy and training salon in Afghanistan. It was fascinating and readers responded to this unique western insight on a culture many people have been struggling to learn more about.

But even though Rodriguez also owned the Oasis Salon and the Cabul Coffee House, A Cup of Friendship is fiction, not memoir. The things that make for magic in one form don’t necessarily extend to the other. That is, if you have something to share and you bring enough excitement and passion to that sharing, chances are you’ll end up with a readable memoir: one that will interest at least some people, because none of us humans can resist genuine excitement in other humans. And if you have a skilled and experienced co-author at your side, so much the better.

Fiction is different. As anyone who has ever read and loved a novel will tell you, great fiction does not necessarily depend on location. Or information. Or agenda. Or anything tangible at all. It can be difficult to put your finger on just what makes a book really great and enjoyable. But you know when it isn’t there.

A Cup of Friendship focuses on American Sunny, living in Afghanistan and running a cafe for fellow expats. And we meet some of those expats, as well as some local women who need help from the Americans. Think Fried Green Tomatoes or Waiting to Exhale, but set in a coffee shop in Kabul and you get the idea.

Is A Cup of Friendship engaging? Sure. Is it readable? Of course. But it’s no Kabul Beauty School. Maybe that was too much to ask. ◊

Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.

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