Monday, August 27, 2012

Lipstick in the Dust

Every woman wants to look beautiful, doesn't she? That's the idea fixed in the minds of a photographic team as they fly into Tibet to take stunning photos for a big cosmetic company's ad campaign. 
Imagine four well-travelled people, each highly successful in their field of fashion advertising, who think they've got it made, used to the luxuries of life, arriving in a Tibetan hotel. At least there's hot water in the taps. Soon their hunt for great shots turns into a tougher sort of quest.
Within a few days they suddenly find themselves adrift in an arid land, are stranded in a remote village, suffering from altitude sickness and dysentery, without telephone communication to the rest of the world. As the Westerners stumble about barren and poor Tibet, leaving a trail of bodies and destruction behind them, they have only the makeup girl’s Rescue Remedy for comfort.
The story is shot through with Buddhist philosophy. At first, it seems as if Dawson is dishing out the worst to the most beautiful: the model Tommi gets diarrhoea, soils a flash frock and runs naked from a snow leopard. However, this is all part of the eight great fears that must be overcome before enlightenment, as explained by their guide, Tenzin.
Potent legend and sacred symbolism conspire to ensnare them. As a series of disasters gradually robs these successful and beautiful people of all the familiar supports of Western society, they become further and further removed from all that is familiar and comfortable, and also become increasingly entwined in the politics and spirituality of this remote and hauntingly beautiful land. They are confronted with their deepest fears and a growing self-knowledge. This new awareness frees them to enter into the lives of total strangers and act with unexpected integrity and honour.
Differing conceptions of beauty form the central motif of Lipstick in the Dust. As she learns to recognise the beauty in this cold, dry, arid and empty landscape, Tommi the supermodel begins to question her assumptions about her own beauty. It’s a very strange sort of beauty though, as one of the characters notes. "It's so hard and rocky, but fragile somehow, like crystal. It's like if you could knock on it, it might shatter. In tropical places, the beauty's more ... bendable." And they must decide just what sort of people they are. 
But the story also uses a particular feature of the Tibetan language to convey this theme. In Tibetan, the concepts of beauty and happiness are conveyed by the same word, kyipo. Not surprisingly, the supermodel in her turn struggles to conceive how anyone could consider a shabbily dressed, prematurely aged peasant woman more beautiful than herself, regardless of how much serenity, warmth and strength are revealed in her eyes. By the end of the novel, however, she begins to understand.
Fast and vivid, funny and tender, LIPSTICK IN THE DUST puts an original spin on what we mean by that small but powerful word: beauty.

Dawson builds a dramatic tension that keeps the reader deeply engrossed and the somewhat erratic progress of the main characters in changing their attitudes is entirely believable, even if the constant barrage of natural disasters and untimely deaths seems a little unlikely, even for Tibet. The ultimate outcome of the novel is perhaps predictable. However, the route from beginning to end is full of twists and surprises, both delightful and distressing. Simultaneously amusing and deeply moving, easy to read and thought provoking, the story rollicks along and no one seems in any real danger.

I really enjoyed reading this book and it was one of those w=ones that end each chapter with a bit of a cliff hanger that makes you want to start the next chapter so you always have to put it down in the middle of a chapter when things have sort of settled down a bit.

Lindsey Dawson (nee Buddle) born in Auckland; lives in Rodney, north of Auckland.
She has had a long career in journalism beginning her career as a reporter for the Auckland Star and went on to work for the Western Leader before moving to radio. Dawson was a founding staff member of Radio Pacific where she worked as both a researcher and talkback host. In 1980 Dawson returned to journalism, where she created and edited three high profile national magazines in NZ (More, Next and Grace) as well as being a long-running contributor and she wrote features for Metro.
For two years from 2006, she edited the quarterly magazine Plenty, owned by Hanover Finance, and her freelance work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including Life & Leisure, Citymix, Sunday, The Business Herald, Experience, NZ Listener and Alive.
She left the corporate life to become a writer of fiction and non-fiction books. This is her second novel. An interior design guide and her first novel, Angel Baby, were published in 1995, followed by a personal growth book in 2001 -- Pearls: Words of Wisdom from the Ocean of Life. She has been a member of the judging panels of the New Zealand Magazine Publishers Association (2001 and 2009) and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards (2002). She writes columns for two magazines, voices a weekly commentary spot on National Radio, does much public speaking and runs seminars on 'how to live a life more luscious' to encourage self-expression, in New Zealand and Fiji. She writes a columnn for Grown Ups 50+ Communtiy and maintains a cartoon blog, Lindsey Out Loud

1 comment :

  1. It sounds like an interesting and thought provoking read. Thanks for sharing your review.