Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #11: LibraryLove February 17, 2010

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriquez

Book description:  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. 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. 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.

Beauty Without Borders- what an amazing concept? I love Rodriguez’ entrepreneurial spirit mixed with philanthropy. She was able to get donations/sponsorship from well-known names in beauty, like Paul Mitchell, to donate truckloads of products, getting her Kabul Beauty School up and running. I admire her for giving up the comforts of Westernized life, time with her children and her own safety to give the women of war-torn Kabul opportunities to make a new life for themselves and teach them a skill they can use after attending Rodriguez’ program learning the trade of cosmetology. Rodriguez is not the strongest writer but I appreciate her story and couldn’t put this book down. I wish Rodriguez chose a few of the girls who were just briefly introduced in her memoir and delved deeper into telling their stories, learning their struggles, along with some heartier dialogue between them. I like to give constructive criticism and I felt that although the concept of the book was great- telling her story of struggle and the fight to bring opportunity to these women, it also showcased just how HARD it is to change cultural ideologies and hegemony that’s been in place for hundreds of years. I just didn’t feel that the book was cohesive enough; the chapters were lengthy and could have been divided up in a more effective way possibly by student?  In the beginning, we’re so drawn in by Roshanna’s story and the heartache of her arranged marriage. Yet Roshanna’s story was really not expanded much more. I was disappointed when I invested myself into her character and I’m left wanting more.

I’m a very loyal person, and will do just about anything for those around me. Because I get so deeply invested in people and things, it’s natural that I get equally attached to characters in books I read. I’ve also found that on the surface, when a book is more than 350 pages, I tend to have more positive feedback towards it. The author takes the time necessary to truly develop the characters, plot, and bring the book to its logical dénoument.

I think that with so much to discuss and expand upon, Rodriguez left me wanting more. I could discuss the practice of wearing the burqa for pages and I wish she would have possibly expounded on that. In fact,  I was actually hoping for it. She could have touched on the impact having to be completely covered took on these young woman. Where was their sense of self and confidence was pulled from? Personally, I love getting to “change my look” from day to day- glasses or contacts, straight or curly hair,makeup or none, \feminine dresses, skirts and open-toed shoes, accessories, hats and purses, or pjs and sweats. We’re so fortunate in Westernized cultures to have the freedom to express ourselves with our appearance. It’s something I appreciate more after having read this book.

So it’s understandable that Rodriguez faced some resistance, because as it is obvious, Middle Eastern cultural norms are very difference from Western culture.  But give us more than just surface descriptions. And please don’t introduce new characters on page 235 of 270! Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot? Sigh.

Moving on, I will say it many times over the course of this year– part of this challenge for me is to read books that fall well outside my typical genre or comfort zone, including books from other cultures and countries. Previously my understanding of Middle Eastern Culture was limited only from exposure to Iranian family ideologies through a friendship of over 12 years with one of my dearest. Other than what her family struggles have been, exposure to their food, music, and culture, I know little about that part of the world let alone what living in a war-torn place like Kabul would be like as a young woman wanting to make a life for herself. I take it for granted too often as an assertive modern and free thinking woman, that I have just that– the freedom to be so. If I want to take a class, learn a new trade, expand my horizons- I go for it without having to ask! When I go to my library, I don’t have to wonder if the armed guards will take me prisoner for reading about topics that are dubbed taboo in my culture. So, for all the soldiers who’ve lost their lives, and for everyone who continues to fight whether overseas or from behind a desk, thank you for giving me the freedom and opportunity to even blog about subjects such as these. Let freedom ring!!

3.5 stars for the composition of the book

5 stars for the strength Rodriguez had to bring to this country

11 down, 41 to go…!

In progress: Forever Lily, and Testimony (audiobook)

Xoxo, LibraryLove