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Summary and book reviews of Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

Kabul Beauty School

An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil

by Deborah Rodriguez, Kristin Ohlson

Kabul Beauty School
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 275 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2007, 320 pages

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Book Summary

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. 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.

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.

Chapter 1

The women arrive at the salon just before eight in the morning. If it were any other day, I’d still be in bed, trying to sink into a few more minutes of sleep. I’d probably still be cursing the neighbor’s rooster for waking me up again at dawn. I might even still be groaning about the vegetable dealers who come down the street at three in the morning with their noisy, horse-drawn wagons, or the neighborhood mullah, who warbles out his long, mournful call to prayer at four-thirty. But this is the day of Roshanna’s engagement party, so I’m dressed and ready for work. I’ve already had four cigarettes and two cups of instant coffee, which I had to make by myself because the cook has not yet arrived. This is more of a trial than you might think, since I’ve barely learned how to boil water in Afghanistan. When I have to do it myself, I put a lit wooden match on each of the burners of the cranky old gas stove, turn one of the knobs, and back off...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. We so often think of ourselves as more socially advanced than Middle Eastern nations. What does it say about this assumption that the author was treated by a preacher husband in the US the same way that Nahhida, wife of a Taliban member, is treated in Afghanistan?

  2. Did Debbie take a chance of repeating her abusive history by marrying a relatively unknown man from a culture with a reputation for mistreating women?

  3. Were you shocked when she revealed that her husband had another wife?

  4. Why do you think Debbie was so emotional upon meeting Sam’s father? Would you have been eager to meet him or preferred not to? Were you surprised at his reaction?

  5. As a mother of two, was Debbie irresponsible in taking risks like crossing the ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New York Times - William Grimes

Kabul Beauty School is the rollicking story of one of the strangest foreign-aid projects ever conceived, the creation of an academy to train Afghan beauticians.

Entertainment Weekly - Jennifer Reese

There are gaps in her account that you could ride a camel through — why did this two-time divorcée wed an Afghan with a wife and seven children after knowing him all of 20 days? But as she blithely puts it, ''I hardly ever deliberate before taking action. I just do, occasionally with disastrous results.'' Sometimes, as with this book, the results are delightful. B+

The Washington Post - Pamela Constable

Rodriguez also takes a personal plunge into the minefield of Afghan romance by marrying a man she meets there. The subplot of that tempestuous bicultural relationship is revealing, but it also has a self-indulgently confessional quality. In contrast, her story of the beauty school and the Afghan women who found refuge there is an important testimonial to the stubborn misogyny of a country many earnest Westerners are trying so hard to change.

Kirkus Reviews

Terrifically readable, and rich in personal stories.

Publishers Weekly

This witty and insightful (if light) memoir will be perfect for women's reading groups and daytime talk shows.

Library Journal

Brash and clearly uninterested in political niceties, Rodriguez understands the needs and fears of the Afghan women who befriend her because she, too, has left a brutal husband back in the United States.

School Library Journal

Rodriguez's experiences will delight readers as she recounts such tales as two friends acting as "parents" and negotiating a dowry for her marriage to an Afghan man or her students puzzling over a donation of a carton of thongs. Most of all, they will share her admiration for Afghan women's survival and triumph in chaotic times

Reader Reviews
Louise Jolly

Kabul Beauty School
Deborah Rodriguez was a hairdresser from Michigan with a degree in cosmetology who decided to move to Afghanistan and teach the women of Kabul how to be beauticians. As she was working out the details of how her hairdressing school would be run, she...   Read More

Tanya Santy

Inspiration
Deborah Rodriguez's book "Kabul Beauty School" was about a her life story as an adult with an abusive husband, and leaving her life behind to help out underprivileged women in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan she saw women that were beaten and abused ...   Read More

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