The Stationery Shop is a sad story about lost love, and invites the reader to ponder the question of what could have been. I liked that about half the story takes place in 1950s Tehran, which I don’t often see featured in historical women’s fiction. I also found the set-up sweet: teenagers Roya and Bahman meet in Mr Fakhri’s neighbourhood stationery shop and fall in love over a shared passion for poetry. Their romance is sweet, almost Romeo and Juliet-like in its innocence and inevitable tragedy.
The tragedy in this case is that a coup breaks out on the day of their planned elopement, and Bahman never shows up. He then breaks up with Roya through a letter, before disappearing from her life completely. Sixty years later, Roya, now a married woman in America, has the opportunity to see Bahman again and finally ask the questions that have haunted her all those years.
While The Stationery Shop is a lovely story and a quick read, it didn’t quite grab me. The early parts, about Roya and Bahman’s romance in Tehran, were very strong. I also felt for Roya after the breakup. I thought it was sweet that the sister agreed to go to America as well, just to help Roya move on, and I wish we’d seen a lot more of the sister’s story. And I loved the romance with Walter, the Tintin lookalike whom Roya meets in America and ends up marrying.
But the actual climax of the book — the present-day encounter between Roya and Bahman — fell flat for me. Possibly it’s because it felt more like closure than an actual rekindling of their earlier relationship. Because at this point, Roya had already built up an entire life separate from Bahman, her need for closure no longer felt as urgent to me. Or possibly it’s because I loved Roya’s relationship with Walter a lot, and thought that as sweet as Roya’s romance with Bahman had been, he was best left in the past. All the cynic in me could think about was that the Bahman in these present-day scenes was already very different from the Bahman whom Roya had loved. Walter as well was remarkably understanding about Roya’s desire to reconnect with her first love, so overall, the stakes of the encounter itself felt fairly low.
Still, The Stationery Shop is a beautifully told story with a somewhat old-fashioned feel. It will move readers who believe in the idea of one true all-overpowering love, and will likely move some readers to tears.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.