Book Review: Kabul Beauty School
February 5, 2016
A memoir written by Deborah Rodriguez, Kabul Beauty School gives readers a peek into one woman’s travels to Afghanistan to start a school for Afghan beauticians. As a memoir, we learn a lot about Debbie as a person, along with her travels to Afghanistan and the relationships she makes there. In order to know how she gets to Afghanistan to launch her beauty school, Debbie explains her back story. At one point she writes, “[T]here is something alluring about the care that a woman takes to make herself look nicer. Maybe it’s the attention to detail, or maybe it’s the hopefulness implied by the act of enhancing what you already have” (250). Debbie’s sense of self as a beautician is constant throughout the story, and it is part of the reason she decides to start her beauty school in the area.
While Debbie’s motivations are interesting, her story pales in comparison to stories of the Afghan women. While it is clear that Debbie isn’t a writer, the stories of the people she meets stand alone without artfully crafted prose. Reading the first few pages of her memoir lets readers know where we are headed. We are in a crowd of women on the most important day in a young woman’s life--her wedding day. Drama spikes as we realize we are not only being taken through Roshanna’s ceremony, but also the wedding night. By the end of the chapter, Debbie has positioned herself as a friend and confidante to this Afghan woman, and we are to trust her throughout the rest of the memoir.
As a reader, I was mostly interested in the interactions Debbie had with the Afghan population, and sometimes her personal diatribes were lost on me. I cared about Debbie less as a character in the story, and was more interested in how her interactions would move the story along. What would happen to the young wife abused by her husband and trying to start a salon on her own? Would the Taliban bomb their beauty school? Was Debbie going to get herself killed with her flamboyant American ways? Yet, even though I cared less for Debbie as a character, many of her realizations were poignant and important. One, in particular, stuck out:
"Many Americans think Afghans are Arabs, just because both are mostly Muslims, but this is not true. Afghanistan was the original melting pot. Its geographic location made it a central thoroughfare on the Silk Road from Asia to the rest of the world and--contrary to its distinction today as one of the most remote and isolated countries in the world--ancient peoples crisscrossed it again and again. Some came to trade, some came to conquer, and all left their mark. Most Afghans have Turkish or Persian roots, but many other ethnicities abound, too" (78).
These poignant realizations, along with the stories from the Afghan women make Kabul Beauty Schoolworth the read. Take the writing with a grain of salt; skim when you need to; but take time when to read Roshanna, Laila, Nahida’s stories--that’s where this memoir excels.
Kabul Beauty School was written by Deborah Rodriguez with Kristen Ohlson in 2007. You can purchase itonline, in bookstores, or borrow from your local library.