Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Book Review: Kabul Beauty School

Author: Deborah Rodriguez

Pages: 270

Genre: Non-Fiction

Personal Rating 5

From the back cover:

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.

Yep, a fiver! You know when a book has you scavenging the Internet for places to volunteer overseas that it has made an impact on you. I loved this book for two main reasons. Or I guess i should say for the two glimpses it gives you. The first is the glimpse it gives you into the life of Afghan women and the second is the glimpse it gives you into the life of the woman Debbie Rodriguez. Her dedication of the book tells you a lot about her "style"but leaves a lot of her "style"to be discovered
"This book is dedicated to my father, Junior Turner, who passed away June 5, 2002, while I was on my first trip to Afghanistan. Dad, I never got a chance to tell you about Afghanistan and the school. You left me too soon. I know you would love Sam, my husband--he is just like you, but Afghan style. I know you would be worried, but also very happy that I am following my dream. I miss you."
Debbie Rodriguez is an spirited, tough, inspirational woman who just doesn't quit. She ends up in Afghanistan as part of a group of humanitarian workers and feels very out of place with the doctors, nurses, teachers, and engineers. She feels like she has no place there. She is just a lowly hair dresser. But when she is introduced with her group for the evening her job title brings down the house and she is instantly surrounded by women (& men) who just want a little pampering! She is needed just as much as the doctors, just in a different way.

Rodriguez comes to learn that her skills are actually very valuable because men cannot enter beauty salons (since women take off their veils and their hair can be seen). If she can teach women how to run their own salons they would ultimately be in control of their own money. Their husbands would never see how much they were actually making since they couldn't enter the salons. The women would for once have some small control over their own lives. They of course would have to turn their money over to their husbands but since he wouldn't know how much they were actually making...

So the book follows Debbie from the beginning of her quest for free donations and her joining of forces with Vogue and Clairol who had already begun to start a Kabul Beauty School, to her marriage to Sam (an Afghan) up until 2006 when her salon and the beauty school are locked up and Kabul is locked down due to political unrest.

I just kept reading and reading this book. I found it very inspirational and moving. I think anyone would enjoy this even if you do not normally enjoy non-fiction. It is just so eye opening to show us how another culture lives.


Maw Books said...

I've been wondering if I should give this one a try but your review as pushed me over the edge. I'll be reading it. Thanks!

bethany said...

Great review! I have been wanting to know more about that book, I was unsure as to what it was about. I love the way you talk about how it made you get online and try to figure out what you could do to help, it sounds like a book I need on my list.

Incredible review, thank you!

Jeane said...

This sounds like a great book. I'm really interested in reading it now.

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