Rummanah Aasi
  While searching for authors to read for the Southeast Asian reading challenge, I came across Roopa Farooki's name. Her debut novel, Bittersweets, was critically acclaimed and won the Orange Prize Award, an annual award given to female writers throughout the world. I actually wanted to read Bittersweets, but it was checked out from the library at time so I opted out to read The Corner Shop.

Description (inside panel): There are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting your heart's desire - and the other? Getting it. Fourteen-year-old Lucky Khalil loves three things: football, Star Wars and Portia, the girl who works in his grandfather's corner shop. In that order. But Lucky has a destiny – worse than a destiny, he has a dream. He dreams that one day, his lucky left foot will win the World Cup for England . It torments him, because it tastes real, because when he wakes he weeps with disappointment that it is just a dream.Meanwhile, Lucky’s mother Delphine seems to have had all her dreams come true.
  But Delphine feels increasingly trapped in her apparently perfect marriage and gilded lifestyle. She fantasizes about rediscovering the freedom of her youth, but rekindling a relationship with her maverick father-in-law, Zaki, is only going to end in disaster.Zaki, a charming gambler who loved and lost Delphine long before she married his sensible and successful son, feels equally trapped in the corner shop that he has unwillingly run for years for his family's sake. He wonders whether the time has come to abandon his middle class responsibilities, to try once more to achieve his own long-forgotten dreams.

Review: Aspirations and family ties are examined across three generations of the Khalil family in Farooki's enjoyable novel. Lucky Khalil is a talented young soccer player with his sights set on taking the World Cup home for England. His father, Jinan, is the serious-minded, hard-working son of a Bangladeshi  immigrant, married to Delphine, who feels her perfect marriage is confining. The patriarch of the Khalil family, Zaki, is a shopkeeper and gambler with wanderlust and an attraction to his son's wife. As you discover earlier on in the book, Delphine is approximately fifteen years older than Jinan and Zaki was once her lover. 
 When Delphine gives in to Zaki's advances, family bonds are stretched to the breaking point and the character's true colors appear. As each of the characters advance in their ambitions, the cross-purposes of their desires and responsibilities blend intricately and threaten to crush the family. 
   The Corner Shop is clearly a character driven novel. Each character struggles with attaining their dreams or rather the mere idea of what their dreams should be. Reality and aspirations clash. With the exception of Jinan, who achieved his dreams and is happy with the results, it was interesting how other Khalil family members felt trapped yet at the same time freed by their dreams. Before being a contender of England's football (what we in the US call soccer) team, Lucky is already plagued by a nightmare of failing his country. Delphine who came across as a modern day Madame Bovary is tired of her "perfect marriage" where she is adored and respected by her husband. Delphine wants more of the romantic notion of a marriage rather than the banal day to day moments with her husband. Zaki is suffers from the Peter Pan complex who abandons his conventional shopkeeper's life and responsibilities when things get too complicated for him and abruptly leaves to search for something fulfilling. 
  I like how The Corner Shop avoids the overly discussed theme of being immigrants adjusting to a new lifestyle and zeroes in what we all, regardless of our cultural, religious, social backgrounds may be, think of: what, exactly, leads to a more fulfilled life? Though told mostly in the omnipresent third person narrator, there are sections where the narration style breaks and some of the characters narrate their side of the story, which can be challenging to follow and interrupts the pace and tone of the book. For the most part I enjoyed the flawed characters, but the twisted love triangle between Delphine, Zaki, and Jinan was hard to wrap my head around and just felt wrong. All in all, a nice quick read for fans of Jhumpa Lahiri and Zadie Smith.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language as well as allusion to sex. Recommended for older teens interested in multicultural fiction and adults.

If you like this book try: Interpreter of the Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, White Teeth by Zadie Smith
8 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    I love the overall themes of this book about dreams and reality clashing, but the love triangle aspect would most likely bother me. My patience for them is dwindling with each book I read that features one, and I long for a single love interest:) Fabulous review Rummanah!

  2. I think the search for something more fulfilling is an idea that a lot of people can relate to.

    But I don't like the sound of the narration style change up. That is too much for my little brain. LOL

  3. I have had a very hard time lately with love triangles. I need a book that has the crafty triangle where I don't really notice it and therefore it doesn't frustrate me, LOL! I'm possibly a nerd. I like the general idea of the book, but the triangle part has thrown me. Especially since you couldn't wrap your head around the relationship(s). Great review though. I love how you describe the characters and their wants in life. :D

  4. Not a fan of love triangles, but I love the concept of immigrants and the adjustments they make. Love an adventure like that.

  5. It does sound nice that this steps away from the ubiquitous immigrant theme. It reminds me of one of the things that I like so much about Lola and the Boy Next Door. That her dads were gay, but that was only a fact, otherwise they were normal dads. I like things that don't dwell on the "differentness."

  6. Jenny: I am tired of the love triangle thing too. I'm glad that it wasn't the sole focus of the story.

    Missie: It took me a while to get readjusted to the voice change. It would go third person to "I" all of a sudden. Really weird.

    Jen: I think because this one involved father, son, and wife/daughter in the law, which really bothered me. It was too icky. LOL

    Melissa: I tend to gravitate to immigrant stories too but it was nice to read a different story.

    Alison: I completely agree. While we may not necessarily see ourselves in these characters, we have thought about the questions they ask of themselves.

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