Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Review: Lipstick in Afghanistan

Lipstick in Afghanistan
By Robeta Gately

Gripped by haunting magazine images of starving refugees, Elsa has dreamed of becoming a nurse since she was a teenager. Of leaving her humble working-class Boston neighborhood to help people whose lives are far more difficult than her own. No one in her family has ever escaped poverty, but Elsa has a secret weapon: a tube of lipstick she found in her older sister's bureau. Wearing it never fails to raise her spirits and cement her determination. With lipstick on, she can do anything-even travel alone to war-torn Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.

But violent nights as an ER nurse in South Boston could not prepare Elsa for the devastation she witnesses at the small medical clinic she runs in Bamiyan. As she struggles to prove herself to the Afghan doctors and local villagers she begins a forbidden romance with her only confidant, a charming special forces soldier. Then a tube of lipstick she finds in the aftermath of a tragic bus bombing leads her to another life-changing friendship. In her neighbor Parween, Elsa finds a kindred spirit, fiery and generous. Together, the two women risk their lives to save friends and family from the worst excesses of the Taliban. But when the war waging around them threatens their own survival, Elsa discovers her only hope is to unveil the warrior within.

My Thoughts:  My brother, Robert Curtis has been a photojournalist for the Military Times, before 9/11.  I wanted to know what it was like for him over there, just to get a taste.

 I contacted Roberta Gately after seeing the novel in the book store.  I wanted to read a story not   from a journalist's view, and not from the military standpoint.

The story, about a nurse I thought would get the human side of the the Afghan's people. The story of a nurse going to Afghanistan after 9/11 intrigued me. 

First off I loved the title of the book. That grabbed me right from the start.  The story was about four women, Parween, Mariam, Elsa, and Amina.   How, she was able to form a bound with these four women because of a tube of lipstick.  I liked that aspect of the story.

I wished that there were more aspects of the story about the families, the poverty and the devastation of the Afghan's people.  I was expecting to read about the health conditions of the people, the health care, the illnesses.  

 But, the author wrote minimally about this. Perhaps, she decided not write about this because that was not her focus. Her focus if you read her biography is about the Afghan's people, and the perception that Americans have about them.

But, because I am in the health profession, I wanted to read about this.  Instead, she wrote about friendships of women. How hard it is to live in a country where women are shunned. Which I still liked, but I wanted more. 

Elsa, met a soldier( special forces) and she became romantically involved with.

Spoilers: Be Warned:

 Elsa helped Parween get a interview for a teacher's position.  After the interview, Elsa and Parween decide to visit a site that they thought would be a perfect spot for a school.  It was very dangerous, and they knew they should not go. Parween dressed like a boy, and Elsa in her Burqa went into the  danger.

Once they got there.  The villagers already spread word about the foreigners.  The Taliban got wind of this.

 Why would they both go to a place where they are putting themselves in danger. Yes, Parween was tired of the Taliban creating havoc. But would you do this, not thinking of your two children and mother? I think most mother's would step back from the situation and think about it. Parween never thought about her children, and her responsibilities.

I was so angry at this point reading this. I threw the book across the room, "Are You Crazy". Then realizing this is not true, but fiction.  I would think Elsa, would have more brains and tell her friend this is not as important. Finding a site for a school as your life.  We won't do this. But instead she went along with her friends scheme, without a argument. 
Putting every one's life in jeopardy, was just crazy.

I don't think this would ever happen. I just can't think anyone being so naive. They can just walk into a dangerous village, full of Taliban.  

Roberta Gately, wrote this novel based on her experiences in Afghanistan.  She has written several articles about her experiences in Afghanistan, with the BBC. This is her first novel. You can read a article about her here.


bermudaonion said...

I love to read about other cultures, so this sounds really good to me.

Cozy in Texas said...

Thanks for the review. It sounds like it was frustrating read.

Marie said...

there's a great photojournalism/graphic novel about Afghanistan called THE PHOTOGRAPHER that documents time the writer/photographer spent with Doctors without Borders there. If you're interested in what people from outside the country are really doing to help the Afghan people with healthcare, and the struggles they face, it's a good one to track down. Maybe your local library has it? It's wonderful.

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