Book Review: Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures) by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andr


A doctor, a lawyer and a social worker walk into a war zone...

I first heard of this book from my human rights law lecturer Professor Steven Freeland at the University of Western Sydney. We all wanted to be human rights volunteers. We all wanted to save the world. Professor Freeland recommended this book to give us an insight into working in war zones. It's not a romantic lifestyle. We didn’t believe him! Needless to say, all 30 students went on the Book Depository to order Emergency Sex because we were hoping for some kind of kinky, more intelligent version of Fifty Shades of Grey.

And it was exactly that - lots of sex, lots of wars, lots of exotic locations (albeit war torn), lots of humanity and most importantly lots of truths behind working for the United Nations. This is an autobiography of three ridiculously good-looking civilian volunteers who set out to save the world. They all start out wanting something more out of life, not just a career to pursue, but to actually make a difference. Andrew is a Kiwi medicine graduate who didn't want to be a 'white-coat doctor' but a real doctor. There's Ken, a Harvard law graduate who is trying everything he can to avoid a career in commercial law. And Heidi, a social worker struggling to make ends meet in New York after her divorce.

The three civilian volunteers cross paths in Cambodia, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti and Liberia. This whole book is a modern history lesson and a great insight into the bureaucracy of the United Nations. It shows that even the UN is not immune to atrocities committed by its own employees and volunteers, and corruption of its officials:

One day someone at UN HQ will commission an official report about this disaster, replete with mea culpas and lessons learned. But for me there's only one lesson and it's staring right at me every day as I eat lunch: If blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers show up in your town or village and offer to protect you, run. Or else get weapons. Your lives are worth so much less than theirs. I learned that they day we were evacuated from Haiti.

Never has any book revealed the failings of the UN in such a way that even Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for this book to be banned.

But this book is also about the human need for friendship, intimacy and love despite the surrounding chaos. It shows human vulnerability and eventually the loss of innocence and idealism of three young individuals wanting to change the world.

I’m not too sure whether any of us in my human rights class still wanted to save the world after reading this book. I sure didn’t want to be a hero anymore. But I read this book every year and every year I change my mind and want to lead the same exciting, dangerous lives like these three civilians.

And then I’m reminded of the reality again through their honest, humorous, and sometimes harsh recounting of events, and I convince myself that I might not be brave enough like Andrew, Ken and Heidi. Whichever way the book sways you, you will definitely find yourself re-reading this over and over again.

One more piece of advice – read this book in public. People will give you all sorts of funny looks and they eventually come up to you and ask you what Emergency Sex is about. In other words, it's also a great pick-up tool.

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