Monday, January 17, 2011

Lipstick in Afghanistan by Roberta Gately (review #107)

Lipstick in Afghanistan by Roberta Gately
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon and Schuster)
Format: Review Copy

There are many novels out there that deal with the war in Afghanistan and the after shock of 9/11. I have not read many of them. When it's in the news as much as it is, I tend to want to read something else. In no means am I trying to forget what happened and the tragedies that occurred, I just simply look for others topics to read for pleasure.

However, I did choose to read this novel and overall, it was a pretty quick read but it didn't leave too much of a mark on me.

This novel tells the story of two women; Elsa, an American nurse and Parween, an Afghan woman. Their stories collide when Elsa, through the UN, becomes a nurse in the village of Bamiyan, where Parween and her family reside.

The book starts out telling Elsa's story growing up in outside Boston. Raised by her mother and caring for her disabled niece, Elsa's beginnings are far from glamorous. Her desire to become a nurse and to help others carry her through. After her niece is hospitalized she befriends one the nurses and through that relationship her dream becomes a realty. After getting her education and working locally she inquires about work through the UN. The opportunity to help out in the remote village of Bamiyan Afghanistan is given to her and though hesitant she is excited at the chance. Now alone, her niece and mother both deceased at this point, she makes the brave decision to go.

The "lipstick" in the title refers to the tube she finds of her sisters at a young age. The application of the brilliant color makes her feel transformed and far away from her humble upbringings. While in Afghanistan, she finds another tube of lipstick after a bus bombing and this, in turn, leads her to her connection with Parween.

Parween's story starts out when she is a young girl with her best friend and takes us through to the day when her arranged marriage occurs. Her situation is fortunate and her marriage turns into a wonderful, safe, happy relationship. We learn however that her good childhood friend does not fair too well. Parween finds herself searching and hoping to find this friend during the many years of Taliban destruction through the villages.

I read this book over a month and a half ago and unfortunately, my memory is lacking on how exactly Parween and Elsa meet. Elsa, being female and American, has many people around her to help her with her transition. She gets a local woman as a roommate and another local man to accompany her throughout the village at times. Parween is well connected in the village. There are also American solidiers near by and though told not to fraternize with them, it inevitably happens.

A little before half way, Parween and Elsa's story come together and they begin a strong bond and work together to help the villagers and to help Parween find her childhood friend. You get a heavy sense of life under the Taliban's control; the devastation, the death, the rules. Elsa eventually begins a relationship with an American soldier stationed there as well so you also get their aspect.

There were quite a few things that fell flat for me in this book. First off, the "lipstick" reference. I find it hard to believe that a tube of lipstick could make anyone feel that much better especially after losing your entire family and seeing and working among the devastation in a third world country. BUT, we all have our own faith and our own ways of dealing with things in our life, so I will leave it at that. I found it to be a bit cheesy and a bit unbelievable.

Elsa's story, in general, was pretty bland in my eyes. The beginning was written very quick and summed up a lot. Though quite a bit happened to her, I never really felt like I got a grasp of her character at all. When she eventually got to Afghanistan, I found her character to be a bit more fleshed out. perhaps because this is where the author felt most comfortable? The author served as a nurse and aid worker so I'm guessing this was a bit easier to write? Even still, when the action picked up, I still never felt very much for Elsa.

Parween, on the other hand, was a much more interesting character to read. I felt like I learned a bit about the rules of her culture and how she tried to go around them. She faced a lot of challenges and carried her strength and passion well. Her parts of the book were some of the only ones I really enjoyed reading; her strong marriage, her compassion for family, and her quest to save her dear friend.

Rating: 3/6
I think this is one of the first 3 ratings I have ever given. Really what did it for me was the lack of depth in Elsa's story and that filled a good chunk of the beginning. Once she got to Afghanistan, the pace picked up and I was able to read through it pretty quickly. I did not buy into the Lipstick reference, however or Elsa's sudden intense relationship with an American soldier. Parween's story was a bit more interesting to me.

If you are looking for a cut and dry, good vs. evil story of current events, this may be for you. I, unfortunately, was hoping for a bit stronger of a debut novel and it fell short for me.

Book Club Pick:
It certainly would bring up a lot of discussion and in that sense, I think it would be a good pick for a book club. With war, the roles of women in different cultures, the loss of family and religion as heavy topics throughout, I feel it would keep the conversations going.

Author Website:

Happy Reading and as always, thanks for stopping by!

red headed book child


Gina said...

Hmm...I was wondering how the lipstick fit into everything, I mean it was in the title for a reason it seemed. Sounds like one to sample if you have a chance, but not necessarily one I'll be running to the bookstore just to pick up. Thanks for sharing your honest experience though....and happier reading next time around. ^_^

Jenny said...

I think books like this are sort of common lately, like the subject isn't quite so new, so because of that they need to be really great to stand out. Disappointing this one didn't work out for you!

Marce said...

Interesting, from other reviews it seemed like the Lipstick totally made sense, uggh. I am on the fence, I am intrigued but you are also one of my very trusted bloggers so now I am unsure.

Thanks for the honest review.

Lisa said...

Oh my goodness, I just read another review of this book where my friend "highly recommend"ed it! It's always great to get a number of opinions from trusted sources before I go out and spend any money and now this one is going to have to go on the "maybe someday" list.

Tales of Whimsy said...

Sorry it didn't wow you. I like the concept :)

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

ugh! i hate it when a book leaves me hanging with that feeling of wasted time...and i hate to give a book a '3' so I can totally relate with you there! There's not that many on my blog either...i just want to spend more time reading books i love or at least like ~ you gave a fantastic review and backed up your rating quite well ~ i'll have to email you next time i have to give a less than great rating!!!

Esme said...

Interesting that you make the comment about lipstick-one of the larger pharmaceutical companies has been giving beauty lessons and free products to the woman in Afghanistan-my thought is give them baby formula, vitamins, toilet paper not beauty products but maybe it does make a difference.