Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Review: Lipstick in Afghanistan

Title: Lipstick in Afghanistan
Author: Roberta Gately
Publisher: Gallery Books, a division of Simon and Schuster
Pub Date: November 2010
Pages: 284
ISBN: 978-1-4391-9138-5
Price: $15.00 US/$$17.00 CAN

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher for my honest review.

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 generoud. 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. Roberta Gately's raw, intimate novel is an unforgettable tribute to the power of friendship and a poignant reminder of the tragic cost of war.

About the Author:
Roberta Gately has served as a nurse and humanitarian aid worker in third world war zones ranging from Afghanistan to Africa, about which she has written a series of articles for the BBC World News Online. This novel is her first.
You can check out her site at
You can check out her blot at

My review:
Lipstick in Afghanistan is the first novel of Roberta Gately and she has written it as fiction, but loosely based it on her own experiences as a nurse in third world war zones. It is the story of Elsa, a nurse from Boston that didn't seem to have an easy life growing up but tried to change her way by becoming educated and striving to help others. Elsa first read a story about Rwandan refugees in a magazine when she was a young teenager and felt from that moment on that she would pledge her life to helping those that had it so much worse than she could even imagine.

Once Elsa becomes a nurse, she does all it takes to become an aid worker and is sent to Afghanistan on her first mission. Once there, she finds herself immersed in running a clinic and learning to live a lifestyle that includes restrictions just because she is a woman. Not only does she find herself overwhelmed with starting a new life in a strange land, she really make a go of it for herself. Elsa finds friends that become a new family to her, she finds love, and she finds herself in that she becomes a new person and accomplishes what she had wished for.

The story isn't just a simple story of finding friendship, love, and a new life. This book opens up your mind to an area of the world that most of us can't even begin to imagine. Although the book is fiction, it is very real in the occurrences that it talks about. Gately has taken her own experiences and shared them with the world to open up what a war zone is like and what the people living and trying to survive in those areas are going through. The book brings home a quality of compassion, tenderness, and that people everywhere should value each other. It doesn't matter what culture you are from or what beliefs you have, relationships can form and thrive across those barriers. Sometimes it is through a common idea, or hobby, or perhaps it can be achieved over an item as simple as a love of lipstick.

The book was a quick read that I finished in a few hours over two days. I found myself waking up during the night after I had read about half of the book. I woke and found myself thinking of the characters in this book and imagining if I lived in Afghanistan and how different my life would be. The characters, the story, and the writing really made me think. I like to read for pleasure and escape but I also like for a book to resonate with me for awhile after I have finished that last page, and this book did all of that.

Elsa first feels empowered by her wearing of lipstick and she makes sure that is one of the few personal items she takes with her to Afghanistan. In the book, the women bond over tubes of lipstick. Is there an item that you can't do without and makes you feel empowered? If you were to go to a foreign country to do aid work, what would your item be? I would love to read your comments on this.

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