Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez with Kristin Ohlson
Random House, December 2007
Genre: History, Women's Studies, Non-Fiction

From the Back of the Book:

Soon after the fall of the Taliban, in 2001, Deborah Rodriguez went to Afghanistan as part of a group offering humanitarian aid to this war-torn nation. Surrounded by men and women whose skills–as doctors, nurses, and therapists–seemed eminently more practical than her own, Rodriguez, a hairdresser and mother of two from Michigan, despaired of being of any real use. Yet she soon found she had a gift for befriending Afghans, and once her profession became known she was eagerly sought out by Westerners desperate for a good haircut and by Afghan women, who have a long and proud tradition of running their own beauty salons. Thus an idea was born.

With the help of corporate and international sponsors, the Kabul Beauty School welcomed its first class in 2003. Well meaning but sometimes brazen, Rodriguez stumbled through language barriers, overstepped cultural customs, and constantly juggled the challenges of a postwar nation even as she learned how to empower her students to become their families’ breadwinners by learning the fundamentals of coloring techniques, haircutting, and makeup.

Yet within the small haven of the beauty school, the line between teacher and student quickly blurred as these vibrant women shared with Rodriguez their stories and their hearts: the newlywed who faked her virginity on her wedding night, the twelve-year-old bride sold into marriage to pay her family’s debts, the Taliban member’s wife who pursued her training despite her husband’s constant beatings. Through these and other stories, Rodriguez found the strength to leave her own unhealthy marriage and allow herself to love again, Afghan style.

With warmth and humor, Rodriguez details the lushness of a seemingly desolate region and reveals the magnificence behind the burqa. Kabul Beauty School is a remarkable tale of an extraordinary community of women who come together and learn the arts of perms, friendship, and freedom.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book.  It was a fascinating look into the culture of Afghan women.  It gave so many different glimpses in the lives of the women encountered by Debbie.  So many of the women's stories were terrible and sad but there were also bright points.  Despite the very harsh culture which the Afghan's are recovering from, these women have found camaraderie and laughter together.  This book had the potential to be very melancholy but the voice of the author herself kept the tone light and generally positive.  I really liked the generally cheery tone of the book.

There were a few structural flaws within the book.  I think that it lost some of the power with the jumps in time and the occasionally disjointed presentation.  Overall, it didn't detract overly much from the novel.

This was one of the best books that I've read this year.  It is a book that will shape my world view for years to come.  One of the most powerful themes in the book is the comparison of the author's bad marriage to an itinerant preacher with those of the Afghan women and their abusive husbands with very few differences.  I highly recommend reading the Kabul Beauty School.

1 comment:

  1. Insightful account of how one woman changed the lives of many. The stories within the book show an inside view of Afghan culture for women during and following the Taliban regime. Sad at times and very real. It shows how women lead lives in other parts of the world and how slow cultural attitudes are to change. The stories pull you in from the beginning and keep you captivated till the end.