Roberta Gately's debut, LIPSTICK IN AFGHANISTAN, drew from the author's real-life experiences to capture the life of a young American nurse working for an aid agency in post-9/11 Afghanistan. Her second novel, THE BRACELET, once again focuses on a young American nurse, this time working in Pakistan, where the stakes for both the nurse and the people with whom she works are even higher.
Abby Howell has been working as a nurse in Boston ever since Hurricane Katrina caused her to leave her native New Orleans. Now, in the wake of a failed long-term relationship, Abby finds herself longing to run away again, even farther this time. On a whim, she applies to work on a United Nations vaccination study in Pakistan, a country she has never visited and knows very little about.
"THE BRACELET vividly portrays the real-life crisis of human trafficking, a global problem Gately also outlines in her author's afterword.... Gately is at her best when describing the milieu of this unfamiliar place and Abby's uneasiness with trying to find her way there."
While in Geneva for her UN debriefing before heading to Pakistan, Abby witnesses a scene that will continue to haunt her for months: a young woman falling --- or perhaps being pushed --- to her death from a balcony onto the street below. But when she fetches the police and returns to the scene, the body is gone. Once she's in Pakistan, Abby can't stop having nightmares about this woman and about her own helplessness in the face of the tragedy.
And talk about feeling helpless --- in Pakistan, Abby discovers that she's not used to feeling so dependent on other people for her safety and security, nor to the feeling of powerlessness in the face of the abject poverty and violence that surrounds her. Her budding relationship with Nick, a maddening (but pretty sexy) New York Times reporter, helps open Abby's eyes to the extent of the misery in this place, particularly to the crisis of human trafficking, which has affected several of the women she encounters. As she helps Nick investigate this crisis --- which may or may not be connected to that scene she witnessed in Geneva --- Abby begins to wonder if she can trust anyone, and if her own life might be endangered by the questions she's starting to ask.
THE BRACELET vividly portrays the real-life crisis of human trafficking, a global problem Gately also outlines in the afterword. Abby's growing concern for the women and girls she meets is genuine, even if the series of coincidences and mounting danger she encounters drifts toward the melodramatic. Gately is at her best when describing the milieu of this unfamiliar place and Abby's uneasiness with trying to find her way there. Dialogue is too often stilted or artificially expository, and the pigeon English spoken by several of the characters is nearly painful to read. That being said, the novel performs an admirable service by calling attention to a genuine crisis in a readable way.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 9, 2012