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A Coffee House in Astana That’s a Little Slice of America

By David Witherspoon

Library Cafén oasis of America is delighting both expats and locals in Astana with its English literature and its homemade cookies. Books and Coffee is a combination bookstore, library and coffee shop at 61-1 Kenessary Street near the corner of Valikhanov.

Owner Martha Peake opened the establishment after living in a village in southern Kazakhstan for eight years. She originally came to the country to teach English – and still does. Books and Coffee’s English classes are not the sit-atattention situations you’ll find at a school, however. Those entering the shop find students sitting on sofas in the library, gathered around their teacher. They look up from their discussions to smile and say hi to a newcomer.

In Kazakh fashion, patrons must check their shoes at the door, donning slippers.

The shop has books in English and Russian. Most are for checkout but two shelves contain books for sale. On a recent day the for-sale offerings included a new biography of Mississippi author William Faulkner. The shop’s forte is American classics – Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example – plus British authors such as Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson and E.M. Forster.

There are also thrillers, mysteries and crime novels from authors such as Agatha Christie and John Grisham.

The coffee bar has the genres you’d expect to encounter at a European coffee shop – like café au lait and cappuccino – plus the mainstay American-style java, teas and sodas. The bar is a wonderful place to relax, browse the Internet (WiFi is available, with the first half hour free and reasonable rates beyond that) and meet new friends, both expats and Kazakhs.

If you’re lucky enough to be at Books and Coffee when the coffee-bar staff is baking, which is often, you’ll think you’re in heaven. The tantalizing odor of chocolate-chip cookies and brownies will take you back to your childhood. And make you dig into your coin purse to get ‘em while they’re hot.

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