Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

I am so grateful that Kabul Beauty School was one of the non-fiction books sent to me by Elle Magazine for my June Juror reviews. The following is the book description that can be found on the Random House website:

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 the idea for the Kabul Beauty School was born. With the help of corporate and international sponsors, Rodriguez founded the Kabul Beauty School and welcomed the first class in 2003. Well meaning but sometimes brazen, she 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.

Here are my thoughts:

At first glance, I made the very poor assumption that this was probably a self-congratulatory memoir, one that was focused on a woman humbled by her surroundings and whom thereby becomes the heroine of the group. What an ill assumption on my part. Ms. Deborah Rodriguez, an American woman, finds herself in Afghanistan after reaching a crossroad in her life, built by the demands of a domineering husband and her need for fulfillment beyond what her present life could never provide. We the readers follow Ms. Rodriguez as she works to open a beauty school in Kabul, which will allow the women to make money, to learn and practice new and safe beauty techniques as well as how to successfully run a beauty shop. Alongside Ms. Rodriguez, we learn about the culture, the lifestyle, the emotions, the mindset, and the beauty of the heart-warming women of Kabul. While Ms. Rodriguez finds her inner peace and accomplishes her main objective of meaningfulness and therefore fulfillment and happiness, she also learns valuable lessons in the women’s struggle to maintain a good life amidst the turmoil of a feuding nation. Ms. Rodriguez never comes across as self-congratulatory but rather as the woman one wishes she/he had as a friend, a confidante of great strength and hope through good times and through bad. I only wish that the memoir was longer so that I could learn what became of the beauty school at present time as well as the women who made it happen. I hope that Ms. Rodriguez continues sharing her stories and particularly those of the women of Kabul. And I do hope that there is the intention to follow-up with the women of Kabul who shared their stories for this memoir.
Overall, this was a fantastic read! I am so grateful that this was sent to me. I definitely recommend it!
To learn more about the Kabul Beauty School, please click here.


Literary Feline said...

Thank you for a wonderful review, Amelia. I hesitate before picking up books like these without a friend's recommendation. Mostly for the doubts you voiced before reading it. This one definitely has earned a place on my wish list thanks to your review.

danielle said...

I might not have picked this one up either, but it does sound interesting! It sounds as though Elle is keeping you busy!

Nancy said...

I will read this now that it got a rave review from you. Not something I would have picked up. Adding to my TBR right now.

Amelia said...

Literary Feline - Thank you! I do hope that you enjoy it. To be honest, I did get frustrated because of the supression of the women. It really pisses me off. But we get to see a side of the culture that has not been portrayed by the media. I think that is what affected me the most.

Danielle - They certainly have! It's been pretty fun discovering new authors :)

Nancy - I hope that you enjoy it! :)

Lotus Reads said...

HI, Amelia!

So lovely to see you blogging again! I think you returned while I was away on hiatus.

I had heard about this book on a radio program a while ago, but as I hadn't made a note of the title, I might have forgotten about it...seeing your lovely review reminds me that I need to pick it up.

And congrats on being picked to be an Elle juror, how fantastic is that!

Arleigh said...

I saw this book today and thought it looked interesting. Thanks for the review!

Kasey said...

First I should say, I have not read this book. Nor will I. I won't because I refuse to support the author in any way! The Amazon review fails to mention that the women from the school are now in danger for their lives. Promises made to them, that their pictures would not be published and that they would receive aid in leaving the country, were not kept. The women live in mortal fear; One even stated she believes that she will be killed for daring to share her story. Rodriguez's response? She claims the women misunderstood the promises she made. And, Rodriquez has since left her Afghan husband and the beauty school and fled to the U.S. The Afghan women have received no financial benefit from the author, from the book sales OR the movie deal for which Rodriguez has already received $80,000. In my opinion, Rodriguez is as guilty of crimes against these women as the Taliban or their husbands. Maybe even more so, since she masqueraded as a savior for these women, and abandoned them for her own gain. Truly despicable!

rehanmerchant said...

Hi Deborah,

How are you doing in Afghanistan.

Do you remember meeting me in Dubai on your way to Kabul at the Burj al Arab hotel.

How can I contact you?
My email is rehan AT raaiza DOT com

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,

My name is Zachary, I am the son of Deborah Rodriguez. I want to thank you all in her behalf for your support and understanding. My mother is a good hearted woman who out of the kindness of her heart sacrificed her life with most of her family to help the women of Afghanistan.

I will send her your regards.

Yours sincerely,

Zachary Lentz

amisare waswerebeen said...

You've won me over. This book is going on my 'to read' list. I'm new to your blog, but hope to visit more.

Please let me know if I can help you with any of your future book purchases through my website.


Asia said...

Hello, thank you for the great review. I picked this book because I love to learn about different cultures. I have also read Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, which is another amazing book about empowering women in oppressive worlds.

I don't know if what Kasey said is true but I certainly hope is not true.

Great blog!