Kabul Beauty School, Deborah Rodriguez, Random House, 2007, 278 pp
This was an interesting read. It was a reading group pick and sparked controversy in the group discussion as it did in the world.
Debbie Rodriguez is the daughter of a hairdresser from Holland, MI. I have spent some time in that town. My Top 40 cover band used to play at the Holiday Inn there in the early 1980s. The first wet burrito I ever ate was at a Mexican Restaurant in Holland. It is a small, mostly blue collar central Michigan town. Debbie is one of those women who do before they think and therefore get a lot done but lead volatile lives.
After a nasty divorce, she leaves her two sons with her mother, gets involved with an NGO and lands in Afghanistan. Within a year, she has a project of her own, backed by Vogue Magazine and Clairol, and starts the first Afghan beauty school in Kabul.
Over the next several years Debbie is either doing total immersion in Afghanistan culture, including marrying a man there, or she is back in the States seeing her sons and drumming up more financial backing for her school.
The book is fast-paced, anecdotal, and entertained me as I learned about the culture, the women, the marriage rites, and the unsettled life of that strange (by American standards) country. Compared to more serious books such as The Bookseller of Kabul or The Swallows of Kabul, Kabul Beauty School made me laugh as well as ponder how women will ever get rights or equality there.
When they do, it will be in part because of women like Rodriguez. She has been criticized both in America and Afghanistan and I don't know how a reader could know for sure if those criticisms are accurate. I believe her when she says that she fell in love with the country and its people. She comes across as having no other agenda than to make the lives of some women better by giving them a skill by which they could make a living. I believe that was her intention.
She made mistakes, she admits it, and finally left because of what she perceived as real threats from the Afghanistan government. I was struck by how much she accomplished precisely because she did not over think things. She just went ahead and got stuff done.