A Cup of Friendship, by Deborah Rodriguez, centers on a group of women who come together at a coffee shop in Kabdul. Sunny is the American who owns the shop which caters to a locals as well as ex-patriates. She hires Yazmina, a young woman who is pregnant with her dead husband's child, a situation which has saved her from the thugs her uncle owes money to but will also put her life in serious danger should the wrong people find out. Wealthy American, Candace, uses her connections to educate and assist Afghan women while refusing to recognize the true motives of her aloof lover. Isabel is a hard-hitting journalist with the BBC who is working on a story about the Afghani poppy fields and discovers the terrible circumstances female workers in the opiate trade - and their babies - are trapped in. Finally, there is Halajan - a rebellious Afghan widow who hides her cropped hair and blue jeans hidden under her burqa and a forbidden love hidden in her heart, lest her own son rise against her.
The stories of these women - and some of the men in their lives - intertwine and unfold against the backdrop of wartorn Afghanistan. While some characters could probably be fleshed out a bit more and the book, as a whole, could be longer and more complex, I did find myself caring deeply about the characters. I worried especially about Yazmina (and the sister she hoped to save from a future of forced sexual slavery). It was fascinating to glimpse inside a world where a woman who conceived a child within wedlock would still be persecuted because her husband was no longer alive when it was time for that child to be born.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning a little more about the plight of women in Afghanistan (although I imagine most women there do not have the type of haven Sunny's cafe provides the women who populate her novel). I also intend to look for something else set in Afghanistan to deepen my understanding of the culture.