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BOOK REVIEW: Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War by Deborah Copaken Kogan

BOOK REVIEW: Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War by Deborah Copaken Kogan


Is a 0.5-star rating available?

I hated this book. I took as much as I could handle, then I had my wife summarize the details I missed. Despite a distillation of Kogan’s laborious prose, even my wife’s more patient (and more empathetic) retelling simply reinforced my opinion.

Kogan was a rape victim, a feminist and a floozie with an almost deliberate naivete and a Leica camera. After placing each item in her pack, she, courageously, ventured into the dog-eat-dog world of photojournalism. Her journeys were dangerous and defining. Her efforts were both noble and relatable.

The book is themed as a chronicling of love. This point is made, re-stated, reinforced, beaten with a stick, skewered and plated with garnish… ad-nauseam; much like this sentence.

Did I mention it’s poorly written? Does she know more than one sentence are allowed in a paragraph. That one does not need to use cumbersome grammar to cram everything into a one-sentence paragraph. It’s true… you can do that.

In the end she found love. She realized feminism was not her desired answer to love or life as she matured in both respects. I know many people have found, and will certainly continue finding, value in this memoir. For me, don’t just skip it, read a thesaurus instead… which Kogan must surely have done, based on the incredibly forced vocabulary throughout.


This memoir was one of the more difficult books I’ve read, both because Kogan was relatable, and wholly un-relatable. Kogan’s memoir was difficult to relate to because her experiences paint her as reckless and morally loose. Until the last 2 chapters, it seemed that her experiences, which are framed inside which lover she is experiencing at the time, were not serving to help her grow and become a better person. In fact, I wondered for 3/4 of the book if this memoir was an excuse to retell her sexual exploits. However, near the end of my reading, I realized that Kogan has a good story to tell, however she has very little experience story telling, which meant that her personal development and growth (which was the point after all!) was not conveyed well. Her lack of experience in character development, which happened to be herself, resulted in a somewhat cliche story of a feminist girl growing up to realize that she did want to have conventional womanhood in her life after all.

On the positive side, once I read the entire book, I realized that I could relate to her framework if I chose to look at my life through the lens she chose. I too could chronicle my experiences through the lens of which man I was dating at the time, though I don’t think that I would necessarily choose to do that myself. I suppose she chose to do this because one of the things she needed to learn what what love was, and she just happened to go about it in a difficult manner. She was an insecure girl who insisted she was a feminist, yet couldn’t go a moment without the attention of a man. So, after many men, she finally found the one she loved and loved her back. Though, as I’m writing this and trying to be positive, I find this theme still cliche.

I am happy that, as a character, she did grow and develop. This is critical to any story, and it was interesting to see that,in the end, she came to realize that what she truly wanted was to be a wife a mother despite her decade of fighting against that notion. She had to find a reason to stop being reckless and running into war, she had to find a reason to live and to value her life and another’s life. I think this is a journey most of us go though, it is a coming of age-type of story. Though, I suppose all this story is, is a memoir of what it is like to gain maturity.

The afterword was not my favorite. Kogan is about to publish her book just as 9/11 happens outside her window (as she lives in Manhattan). I wonder if I had read this book around the time when the towers fell that I would have appreciated her metaphor for “America being raped by the destruction of the Twin Towers”. However, again, it felt forced and a cliche. Though, I have to concede that this may be a result of over 15 years of 9/11 metaphors at this point. Her thoughts may have been original and deep at the time.

The most difficult thing about this book is that I cannot think of one person I would recommend this book to. Kogan’s use of language, sexual content, and her experiences in war make it difficult to pass along. It’s almost like you would have to find this book on your own to read it. Though I think her story has value, it is not the most inspiring coming-of-age memoir out there. I would probably recommend another memoir over this one if I though someone would benefit from a book about maturing.

Publisher’s Description:

On a wintry night in February 1989, 22-year-old Deborah Copaken Kogan is the lone female among a group of Afghan freedom fighters riding through the Hindu Kush mountains. ‘In my lap, hopping atop my thighs as the truck lurches, as my body shivers, sits a sturdy canvas Domke bag filled with Nikons and Kodachrome film, which I’m hoping to use to photograph the pull-out of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Actually, I have no idea how to photograph a Soviet pull-out. Though this is my second story as a professional photojournalist, I’m still not clear on what it is photojournalists actually do in a real war.’ What follows is the hilarious and winning memoir of a young woman finding and fighting her way through the war zones of the world. It is a thrilling coming-of-age story, told with humour and uncommon wisdom, about how one woman fought her way on to battlefields, and the danger, pain, truths and love she discovered there.

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