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Kabul Beauty School – Review

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Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Location: Afghanistan
Random House, 2007
ISBN 9780812976731
283 pages

With nothing more to offer than a desire to help a country of oppressed women and a degree in cosmetology, Deborah Rodriguez divides her time between Michigan and Kabul where she works as a teacher for the Kabul Beauty School. The school offers a resource and opportunity for the women of Afghanistan in a time following the ousting of the Taliban.

This book was both fascinating and annoying. Fascinating because I love reading about Middle Eastern culture, and I dearly loved The Bookseller of Kabul for its intimiate and thoughtful portrayal of life in Afghanistan for both men and women. This book, I felt, was lacking in those key elements. Rodriguez’s level of cultural insensitivity was frustrating throughout the entire book, as was her lack of concern for her missteps. For instance, she discussed men’s hairstyles in Kabul and how one barber dared to rebel against the regime by giving the men haircuts of long lengths. These men would hide their hair under caps so the police would not find out. Once it was uncovered that the barber had been breaking the law by giving men these haircuts, he was promptly sent to jail. Instead of discussing the horrors of a Middle Eastern jail and the injustice of being thrown in jail for such a seemingly trivial offense, Rodriguez ended the story with a quip “He was a true prisoner of fashion!” It left a very sour taste in my mouth at her brush-off of this event, and I have to admit, it left me biased and critical towards the rest of her stories. The writing style was overly floral and I feel highly embellished. The author’s ability to invoke little white lies to family about her life in Kabul had me questioning the validity of many of the episodes in the book. Overall, the book felt like a giant pat-on-the-back for the author for her ability to remain the stereotype of the “rude American” in a country and city that prides itself on its manners and sense of pride.

While I enjoyed reading about the women in Afghanistan, the focus of the book never went farther than the doors of the beauty school. I’m hesitant to call this a memoir because of the narrow scope of focus. The chapters and storyline were choppy with no real focus or linear path. It can probably be considered a travel memoir, or a series of travel reminiscences. I stopped reading about 20 pages before the end of the book because the stories felt more like gossip than introspection about the struggles of Afghani women. Although I’m sure the author meant well, and her role in the beauty school significantly changed the lives of dozens of Afghani women, the overall feel of this book was disappointing and unfocused.

Book 27 of 2011
Find this book at your local library
Kabul Beauty School : an American woman goes behind the veil