It’s 1953 in Tehran. The country, for the most part, was governed by a democtratic prime minister. But it was in the grips of communism, regardless. Demonstrations happened every day, kids at school were divided in their ideologies. Roya, idealistic though as she was, remained somewhat detached. Her days were filled with family, school, and a once a week trip to a stationery shop where, for at least a couple of hours, enabled her to luxuriate in the words of Rumi.
Then one day, with a blast of cold wind, in came Bahman, ‘the boy who would change the world’. He had a penchant for politics. He was staunched in his belief that his country will remain unaffected by the pressures of globalization. He was handsome, charismatic, idealistic, and he shared Roya’s love for Rumi’s poems. The shop owner, seeing the palpable connection between the two, decided to intervene. Thus the relationship, albeit, short-lived, blossomed until Bahman’s proposal of marriage.
Then on the eve of their marriage, and on the night of the coup d’etat, Bahman disappeared. Desperate, Roya did everything she could to find him. Broken-hearted, not only for Bahman’s betrayal but for her country’s demise, Roya left Iran to study in America. It would be 60 years later would have the chance to find out why he never showed up at the meeting place they agreed to meet.
This novel is so sublime; quiet in its beauty. And despite the strife the country went through over the years, it still managed to paint Iran in all her glory. I can barely imagine this Iran, some sixty odd years ago. A country that somewhat progressive, depending on who was at the helm. In the backdrop of Bahman and Roya’s story was a history lesson of how many times their government was manipulated by outside forces, and how their people fought long and hard for peace and independence. Ideologies change over time; factions switch from one belief to the next so the country went through years of upheaval politically and socially.
They had one immovable force in their way: the dreams of a mother who favours status over the happiness of her own son. They were apart more than they were together. But even with the separation, their lives were governed by the memories of each other. And yet, their loved endured through decades. They each married different people but 60 years later, it’s as if nothing has changed.
The Stationery Shop was one of those unassuming novels that makes your heartache in the subtlest of ways. It spoke of a bravery for Bahman and Roya to move forward in their lives even though they know they will not be together. Roya’s life in America was not always the easiest. Being Middle Eastern and a woman at that, lent for some prejudice with which she had to contend. Bahman, on the other hand, grew to care for the woman his mother chose for him to marry. But despite the pretense, the memories of their young love was a ghost that haunted them.