Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War is a fascinating coming-of-age memoir about former photojournalist Deborah Copaken Kogan's extraordinary experiences in some of the most dangerous, war-torn regions of the world. Born in the late '60s, Kogan grew up in the post-feminist era, firmly believing that she could pursue any career she wanted to. When she discovered the power and the thrill of photography as a high-spirited, intelligent undergrad at Harvard, she knew that she had found her calling; photojournalism promised the right balance of adrenaline-filled adventure and, idealistic though it may be, humanitarian effort. So, shortly after graduation, she set out in search of a war -- any war -- to expose the evils of the world, and soon she found herself on a bus with a group of Afghani freedom fighters during the pullout of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989.
And that is where Kogan's story begins. By book's end, she has documented a heroin epidemic in Switzerland, a racially charged conflict over rhino preservation in Zimbabwe, a distressingly inadequate orphanage in Romania, and -- the experience Kogan now remembers as the most frightening of all -- the violent demonstrations in Moscow during the fall of the Soviet Union. As she watches these events through the viewfinder of her camera, she witnesses a multitude of atrocities that profoundly affect both her inner character and her view of the world. Her descriptions of these experiences are full of compassion, youthful naïvité, and horrified disbelief.
But, despite the unorthodox nature of her job, there is an aspect of Kogan's professional life to which many working women will relate. At 5'-2", she is a far cry from the typical cowboy photojournalist, and professionally, she suffers a fair amount of harassment. Both in the offices of her photo agency and out in the field, many of Kogan's colleagues view her with suspicion. But as her story progresses through countries and conflicts, Kogan successfully surmounts these sexist obstacles, eventually earning the respect of her fellow photographers and proving that women can make outstanding photojournalists. Along the way, she matures as a person, and her stories become both increasingly poignant and enthralling.
And that's only half the story, for among the Swiss drug addicts and Romanian orphans Kogan also searches for a very different element of human nature: love. Each chapter of Shutterbabe covers not only a specific photo assignment but also a different man in her life, and her romantic escapades are just as exciting and potentially dangerous as the violent warfare she captures on film. From mean-spirited Pascal, who beats her with a telephone, to sweet but sad Doru, who carries Romania's burdens on his shoulders, Kogan's love life is turbulent and sexy, adding to the adventure. When she finally meets her future husband, her descriptions of their time together are touching, tender, and all the more meaningful after the slew of unsuitable Romeos who came before him.
By the final chapter, after a number of difficult decisions about the relative importance of career versus family (another dilemma that is sure to draw empathy from many working women), Kogan has demonstrated that, although the turf may be different, the search for love is often filled with as many minefields as war. Ultimately, her experiences in both types of battle make Kogan an inspirational role model for women and make Shutterbabe a thoroughly riveting read. (Stephanie Bowe)