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Book Review-Lipstick in Afghanistan by Roberta Gately

Lipstick in Afghanistan

by Roberta Gately

PBR Book Review:

The effects of years of war and conflict are poignantly portrayed in this debut novel. Drawing on her own experience as a nurse and aid worker in Afghanistan and other developing countries, the author creates a vivid believable story of the ethical and cultural dilemmas aid workers in third world countries face. She shows the strength and resilience necessary for the Afghanistan people to overcome and suppress the fears inherent in living in a war zone and instead find hope and the will to continue. The two main characters, one an aid nurse, the other a young local women give insight into the oppression and dominance Afghanistan women face and the empowering nature of friendship. Through their eyes the author contrasts the worst of humanity with the best and demonstrates the vast difference between the two cultures. The weakest part of the book w as the love story; it just didn’t seem to fit Elsa’s character or the story in general. In summary, a great light read that’s well written and easy to read. I recommend to those who like reading about strong women, the effects of war, Afghanistan or enjoy a good story.

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*Other Books by Same Author: “Debut book”

*Discussion Questions

1. Throughout the novel, Elsa is somewhat naÏve in her motivations and expectations. Do you see this as a positive or negative quality? Do you think that her naÏvetÉ is what really allowed her to embrace Bamiyan and be less of an "outsider," or do you think it has blinded her to the constant danger of her situation, making her reckless when she ought to have been careful?

2. Elsa says to Mike, "If you're still coming to dinner tonight—and I hope you are—you'll see my Afghanistan. Good friends and gentle people" (p. 194). Do you agree that even under such volatile circumstances, there can be such a dichotomy of views? That a soldier could never look at the place and people around him the same way a nurse or aid worker could, and that even though they're physically in the same location, their experiences are vastly different?

3. The story is narrated in third-person limited: that is, we see through the experiences of Elsa, and at times, through the experiences of Parween. Why do you think the author chose to write it this way? Was there another character that you wished to see at the center of the narration?

4. What did you think about Elsa's relationship with Mike? Do you think it would have progressed so quickly had they met under different circumstances? Do you think that being in Bamiyan gives Elsa a kind of courage that the Boston Elsa would never have had? Do you think the fact that they both sought familiarity in a foreign land (and found it in each other) made for a deeper relationship, or is that a superficial (albeit passionate) connection that might not last in a place like Boston?

5. Before the encounter with the Taliban guerrillas, Elsa tells Mike of her plans to go "to Rwanda, or, well . . . anywhere they need us" (p. 226). Do you think she will follow through on that plan after all that has happened, perhaps by joining the UN? Do you think she feels she owes it to Parween to continue to help people? Do you feel Aide du Monde's decision to have her replaced was warranted?

6. Lipstick in Afghanistan has many strong female characters. Think about all the different women who impact on Elsa's life: Margaret, Maureen, Parween, Amina, Rahima, and Laila. What does Elsa learn from each of these women at various points of the novel? What do you think they learn from her? Think about the women who play a significant role in your life. What can you learn from them?

7. To a great extent, the male characters in the novel are quite clearly good (Uncle Abdullah, Mike, Hamid, Raziq) or evil (Mariam's husband, the members of the Taliban, Noor Mohammed). How did you feel about the portrayal of men? Did you find it accurate, or too simple? What about the fact that men were shown as both victims and perpetrators of crimes, while women were almost solely victims?

8. When Elsa tells Parween that she is angry at Mike for saying that he'd shoot Hamid if he had to, Parween's reaction surprises her. Parween says, "Things are not always as complicated as you make them, Elsa. You are like a tree—strong, yes—but rigid. Too rigid. . . . When you see Mike—and you will—ask him if he'd save Hamid. That is the only thing you need to know" (p. 203). Do you agree with Parween's and Mike's point of view? Or do you feel that Elsa is right to try and see the complexity of the situation—to want to always judge people on an individual basis, as impossible as it may be?

9. Parween willingly risks everything when she jumps from the tree and attempts to surprise the Taliban members from behind. What do you think of her decision? Do you think it was selfish—that she should have considered her mother and her daughter and the life they'd have without her before risking her life? Or do you think it was selfless—that her risk was a way to try and ensure a better future for her daughter, and for all women?

10. The story of the lady rebel is very significant throughout the novel. What do you think the legend symbolizes? What did you think about the fact that Parween, through her death, becomes the embodiment of the legend? How else does the idea of rebellion manifest through the book?

11. Do you think karma and/or fate play significant roles in the story? Support your answer with examples from the text.

12. Were you left with a sense of hope at the end of the novel— that things would be better for the women in Bamiyan (and also Elsa), or was there a lingering feeling of futility? Do the themes in this fictional account relate at all to your real world perspectives on war and change?

13. The title of the book is Lipstick in Afghanistan. Discuss the significance of lipstick to the women in the novel. What does it mean to Elsa? To Parween and Mariam? If you had to pick one overarching idea or theme for it to symbolize, what would it be?

Book Summary
Roberta Gately's lyrical and authentic debut novel inspired by her own experiences as a nurse in third world war zones is one woman's moving story of offering help and finding hope in the last place she expected. 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. 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.
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