"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Book Review: Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

The August Great Readers of M read the Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez. I chose this book as our monthly selection and it quickly moved into my Current Top 10 books. This book was absolutely amazing. It was a candid look into the lives of Afghan women. Debbie is hilarious, I often caught myself laughing out loud. She did something most American women would never dream of doing.

Kabul Beauty School begins with the story of a wedding. Families save for years and even take on huge debts to make engagement parties and weddings as festive (despite men and women being separated) as possible. The groom's parents are usually expected to provide a large cash dowry, expensive dresses, and gold to the bride. The bride's virginity and family honor are very, very big issues in Afghanistan, and in this particular wedding it turns out there is a serious "technical" problem. Fortunately, "Miss Debbie" solves it just in time.

Deborah came to Afghanistan as a set of extra hands for a medical team in an effort to escape her abusive husband. After the culture shock of her first few days and feeling useless, she discovers her beauty-shop experience is highly valued by both Afghans and Westerners in Kabul. Upon learning that the Taliban essentially destroyed the existing salon industry, she vows to establish a training program. So, its back to Michigan to obtain corporate donations and divorce her husband before returning.

The bulk of Kabul Beauty School consists of vignettes of what Deborah learns of terrible female abuse (mostly by their husbands) from her students. Fleeing an abusive husband or having been raped are even grounds for imprisonment. In addition, we learn that electric power in Kabul is on for less than 4 hours/day, significant caste-like differences exist between tribes, and the nation is also plagued by corruption and inept police. At the end, Deborah wonders if she has accomplished anything lasting - her school and salon have been shut down as a reaction to civilian deaths caused by a traffic accident involving the U.S. military, and the Taliban are re-surging.

This book is refreshing and passionate. I could not put it down. I am so lucky to be living in the USA. I recommend this book to everyone.

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