CORNER SHOP by Roopa Farooki. St. Martin’s Press: New York. February 2009. 368 pages. $24.95. www.roopafarooki.com
One of the opening quotes of Roopa Farooki’s second novel is attributed to the pinpoint wit of Oscar Wilde: “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” This quote is the beacon that guides Farooki’s Corner Shopand makes it a winner, with its honest and serio-comic examination of dreams, desires, and what they both mean when met too soon.
Corner Shop tells the story of a mixed-race, mixed-ethnicity, three-generation family in London. Zaki, the patriarch, came to London from Dhaka via Paris with dreams of living a carefree life filled with love and devoid of baggage. Coming and going as he pleases, he is strangely attractive, especially when compared to his semi-stoic, semi-stodgy son, Jinan. Jinan, who was born in France and raised in England, is decidedly British. He is confident in his own life without having specific dreams, except, perhaps, to have everything perfect and in its place. Luhith—or “Lucky”—is Jinan’s born-and-raised-in-London, inexperienced yet focused and determined teenaged son whose overwhelming goal in life is to win the World Cup for England.
Connecting the three generations of men is the vivacious yet stifled, smart yet claustrophobic, Delphine—Lucky’s mother, Jinan’s wife, and Zaki’s former lover. Her already-achieved dreams were to escape her tiny French village, to enjoy a successful business career, and to have the perfect marriage.
All four characters are imperfect yet loveable, full of life but confused, annoying in their own ways while tremendously charming. One can’t help but feel like a confidant as family crises, friction, achievements, disappointments, and realizations unfold.
Each character’s dreams are achieved in one way or another over the course of the novel. Zaki, who had no true ambition following the untimely death of his wife, reflects on his escape from his once-expected destiny of shopkeeper, only to recognize that he became a shopkeeper in order to support himself and his young son. This realization propels him to make a life change he only dreamed could happen. Jinan, content with having achieved his goals, has to work hard to maintain that level of success, even when it means deceit and manipulation are necessary tools. Over the course of the novel, Lucky begins to fear the uncertain potential of his own dreams; he doesn’t understand how the rapid changes in his life will affect him and his goal. Delphine feels trapped in her perfect marriage because her youth and successful business career lie buried deep in her past. Wanting to recapture the personal power and excitement of the past, she looks to Zaki to revive their former relationship. Each character questions their personal value, and none comes to an answer easily or lightly.
“I think the danger of achieving dreams too early is that it leaves us with nothing to wish for,” Farooki comments. “The book shows that it is better to achieve our dreams than not, as it is usually what we don’t do that we regret the most.” Farooki, born in Pakistan and raised in London, now lives in France. Her own experiences provided the seed for Corner Shop as she, herself, felt that she had reached her dreams and goals at a young age.
“At the point of writing Corner Shop,” she says, “it felt that I had just fulfilled my own wildest dreams.” She and her husband had finally succeeded in having their first child; then, three weeks later, she was offered a publishing contract for her first novel; and shortly thereafter, they moved into their French farmhouse. “While I was reflecting on all our extraordinary good fortune, part of me was already wondering, unexpectedly and a bit disloyally, ‘What now?’ I felt that I was too young to have exhausted my dreams.”
That realization produced Corner Shop, a comic and poignant novel that conjures questions that come back to tease and haunt the reader: What are your dreams? Have you achieved them yet?
If so, what’s next? If not …?
These are heady and worthwhile questions, worth mulling over, no matter where you are on your life journey.
|Jeanne E. Fredriksen reads and writes near Chicago, where she freelances as a copywriter and teaches Creative Writing to children through the Center for Gifted-National Louis University.|