REVIEW: Lipstick in Afghanistan

We have heard and seen the word AFGHANISTAN often in the last ten years.  Some readers have lost loved ones in this country of dusty roads, mountains, caves, and pink and white opium poppy fields.

We know that people die in Afghanistan—our soldiers fighting the Taliban and the peoples of this ancient country, caught in the line of fire or more often, dying from disease, hunger and injury because of lack of food and proper medical care.

Author, Roberta Gately, worked as an RN and aid worker in Afghanistan and other third world countries.  In her first novel, LIPSTICK IN AFGHANISTAN, Gately’s wide range of emotion and experience brings her nurse character, Elsa, immediately to life and makes us fall in love with the warm and courageous people of post 9-11 Bamiyan.  These character’s lives must echo those of the real Afghans Gately met while working there.

Elsa’s eagerness to travel to a country like Rwanda, so that she can use her ER nursing skills to help humanity, lands her at a clinic in Bamiyan where almost immediately she sees the daily heartache that many Afghans experience.

But Elsa’s own background of some misfortune gives her the strength to move forward into her nursing work and to find friendship with Parween, an Afghani widow who hates the Taliban and with Mike, a US soldier stationed at a safe house near the clinic.  Aware that she desires not only companionship but also commitment, Elsa forges a deep friendship with Parween that takes her far from safety while immersing her in the daily Afghan life of tea ceremony, set cultural rules and true loyalty.  Her feelings run so deeply for Parween that she questions Mike’s military role and ventures into dangerous territory to help her friend.

Gately has written a great story, but also sewn the fine threads of Afghan culture into every chapter so that the reader better understands how a people can so deeply  love this country that often seems desolate to outsiders.

The title of the novel underlines that every woman (even those who don’t know indoor plumbing, must wash their clothing in the river and often hide under a burqa) loves the color and delight of lipstick.

Gately writes on her blog: I’m not sure why it took me so long to write about my love of lipstick.  Perhaps it’s because it seems to carry a trace of smug vanity, a hint of self-absorbed conceit.  But the truth is that lipstick – at least for me – is utterly captivating.  What other product can do what lipstick does?   That tiny little tube of color is to the face what shoes are to the body – a can’t miss, feel-good purchase that will raise your spirits even if you’ve gained five pounds or lost a boyfriend.  A new lipstick will boost your self-esteem and perk up your smile.  Lipstick is the great equalizer for so many women – young and old, rich and poor, and around the globe – it is the final touch before we head out the door, the frosting, sometimes quite literally, on who we are.   

And though lipstick doesn’t define us, it surely does emphasize a smile or a nod.  It is uniquely designed for women for though men may steal our hair products and skin creams, they keep their hands off our lipsticks.  The pleasure of applying it, of drawing the color across our lips and finishing up with a coat of slick gloss, is uniquely a woman’s.  

LIPSTICK IN AFGHANISTAN is available online at and in bookstores.

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Lipstick in Afghanistan

  1. Sometime it’s these common little threads that remind us that although we may be very different in many ways, we may be more alike than we know!

  2. Yes, I thought it was a very interesting way to show what women can share no matter their religion, upbringing and present life situation. Thanks for reading, Carol. Beth

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